The phrase “dog days of summer” has its roots in the time when Sirius — the “dog star” — was prominent in the mid-to-late-summer sky.
Nowadays, it just refers to those hot and steamy summer days where we crave and seek out air conditioning.
It’s during these days that pet owners have to put themselves in the paws of their little pals, and do what’s necessary to keep them from the grip of dangerous heat.
“Heat stroke is commonly going to occur when the pet is put into a situation where there’s elevated temperature and there’s no good ventilation or access to fresh water,” Dr. Starke Mueller, DVM, said. “The first thing that we always tell people is don’t leave your pet in the car with the windows closed. It’s like putting your pet in an oven.”
Dr. Mueller, medical director at Richfield’s VCA Animal Care Hospital, says dogs are especially susceptible.
“They don’t sweat like we do, and they can only cool through panting. They do have a few sweat glands, they’re inbetween their toes, but not very many. It’s not a good form of heat dissipation.”
Even a quick dip into a store with a pet waiting in the car is a bad idea.
“All it takes is a couple minutes. Running into the store and coming back out — that’s too long,” he said.
Mueller says dog owners should only take their pets out for exercise on hot days during the early morning or late evening. But exercise should be nixed on these days for certain breeds.
“Any breed that is brachycephalic, or the term we like to use is ‘flat faced’ — so your boxers, pugs, any kind of breed with the smooshed face — they’re at a much higher risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke,” he said.
In fact, these kinds of dogs should only be going outside to use nature’s restroom. Breathing for these little ones — even when they’re just laying around — can be like strenuous exercise.
“Because of the way their airway is, they have a much more difficult time breathing. So even their panting, the ability to pant and get rid of heat that way, is reduced, as well as the way that they breathe generates more heat because they have to breathe harder,” Mueller said.
Even when a pet is outside in the yard on hot and humid days, make sure they have cool, clean water on hand. And if little to no shade is available, don’t leave them out for long, and certainly not without water.
If your pet is in a situation where heat is threatening their health, quickly get them to a veterinarian. Mueller says vets typically use a few methods to lower body temperature.
“Cool water [is] applied to an armpit, groin, anal area, around the mouth. We put alcohol in the foot pads. And then the other thing that we do is we give them IV fluids which helps bring their temperature down,” he said.
Mueller says the application of alcohol to the paw pads dilates the blood vessels, helping to dissipate more heat through their sweat glands.
For more info on keeping your dogs and other pets safe on hot days, click here.