Canberra can have some scorching hot days through the summer. The ACT veterinary world dreads the phone call from the distressed pet owner who has come home and found their dog collapsed in the back yard. Even worse are crisis calls from someone who has found a collapsed dog in a locked car.
Dogs are just as likely to suffer from heat stress as humans. People sweat through their skin to cool off, but dogs can’t. They can only sweat through the pads of their feet. They generally cool off by panting which is a very inefficient cooling method.
Heat stress happens readily when dogs are left in parked cars but it can also happen in your own backyard. During summer we receive numerous calls at Inner South Vet Centre from concerned pet owners during heat waves. Their dogs often show worrying signs like lethargy, excessive panting, breathing problems and collapse. Many of these dogs have not even moved out of their backyards.
Heat stroke usually occurs in the classical way on a hot day when the animal cannot cool off. Often these dogs are ‘brachycephalic’ short faced dogs like bulldogs, pugs, boxers and pekinese. Pomeranians are also often affected. These dogs have an impaired ability to cool themselves normally due to their dysfunctional upper respiratory tract conformation, and they de-compensate on a hot day. Big, old dogs with impaired laryngeal function and dogs who are obese are also at risk.
Heat stroke can also occur after excessive exertion when working dogs go too hard, or pet dogs overdo it on a walk. Dogs with medical conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, or kidney failure are also susceptible.
Suggestions for dogs to beat the heat are:
- Don’t take your dog out for a walk in the middle of a hot day. Walk in the cooler morning and evening time, or not at all.
- Make sure there is plenty of fresh drinking water available.
- Shallow kids’ paddling pools make an ideal cooling off spot.
- Dogs who are at risk are best kept inside on hot days in air conditioning or at least near a fan.
- Make sure that your dogs have plenty of access to shade in your backyard.
- Long haired dogs benefit from clipping during the summer. Clipping also prevents grass seeds and makes tick prevention simpler.
- Frozen treats make an excellent treat on a hot day.
Signs of heat stroke include heavy panting, difficulty breathing, wide, dilated, blue tongue, fatigue, drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, collapse and even seizures.
If your dog displays any symptoms of heat stroke it’s important to bring them straight down for veterinary assessment. If you suspect heat stroke, cool them down before coming, by gently washing them in cool water.
And it goes without saying that you must never leave a pet unattended in a car, even when the weather isn’t very hot, even with the windows down. Dogs in parked cars can become hyperthermic and die in a matter of minutes!