At this time of year, many of us spend as much time as we can outside, enjoying the sun before the temperatures start to drop again (all too soon). Like us, dogs also tend to relish the summer weather, but it is important to take measures to ensure that it does not become too much for them.
As humans, we mainly keep our bodies from overheating by dilating the blood vessels in our skin to allow heat to escape, and by sweating. Sweating results in heat loss when the moisture evaporates off of the skin. The blood vessels in canine skin also dilate in hot weather. Dogs, however, are only able to sweat through their paw pads, so this cannot be a significant source of temperature regulation for them. Their alternative is to pant, which functions in a similar way to sweating in that it induces cooling via evaporation. The fact that this is a more localized method, and that most dogs are covered in fur, increases the risk that they may not be able to cool themselves sufficiently.
Furthermore, there are certain factors that hinder a dog’s ability to thermo-regulate, or control their body temperatures. Studies have shown that brachycephalic dogs, or those with "pushed-in" faces (such as Pugs, Bulldogs, and Shih-tzus), are generally not able to cool themselves as effectively due to differences in their respiratory anatomy. They breathe more quickly when exposed to excessive heat than do longer-nosed dogs, but their panting is less successful at preventing their body temperatures from rising. Dogs that are overweight also have a reduced ability to thermo-regulate: like brachycephalic dogs, they are less able to breathe efficiently.
When dogs are exposed to excessive heat and are not able to adequately keep themselves cool, their temperatures can climb dangerously high, resulting in heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Severe hyperthermia in dogs causes inflammation throughout the body, which in turn can lead to excessive blood clotting, and this can result in organ failure and death.
Most importantly, how can we, as their owners and caretakers, prevent this from happening? In the summer, it is best to minimize dogs’ exposure to heat by walking them in the early morning and late evening, when the air is cooler, and keeping them inside in the middle of the day. This also prevents their paw pads from becoming burnt when walking on hot pavement. Dogs should have access to fresh drinking water at all times, and should never be left alone in the car: on an 80°F day, the temperature within a car can rise to 110°F in less than 20 minutes. It is important to watch for heavy panting, weakness, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and collapse, as these are all signs of heat stress. If any of this occurs, it is recommended to bring your dog to a cool area, and call your veterinarian. With these safety tips, we can help our dogs-- and ourselves-- to continue to enjoy the rest of this summer.
Should you have any questions, comments or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact us by phone at 845-876-6008, or by e-mail at [email protected].
Thank you for continuing to trust Rhinebeck Animal Hospital as part of your pet's health care team!
With warmest regards, Your friends at Rhinebeck Animal Hospital