By Lisa Feinstein DVM MPH
Summers in South Florida can be very hot, with temperatures in the mid-90s and humidity close to 100%. It’s important to stay cool and out of the heat, especially at the hottest time of the day. Dogs and cats can also be affected by this heat, and we have to protect them from it and recognize the danger signs. Dogs especially are more at risk since they are taken on walks or in cars and get overheated.
Dogs don’t sweat all over their body like we do. They pant to release heat and sweat in isolated places like their paws. When running or walking your dog, take him out during the cooler parts of the day like in the morning before 7 am and in the evening after 7 pm. Don’t leave your dog in the yard alone and don’t ever leave them in a hot car. Some breeds are more susceptible to heat stress since they airways are less open for good air exchange. The brachiocephalic breeds which include Pugs, Bulldogs, Pekingese, and Japanese Chins are short-nosed and have thickened soft palates making it harder for them to get good air exchange. If they get hotter and pant, their throat becomes more swollen, making air exchange for difficult. I have heard of English Bulldogs dying when taken for a run. Their owners had no idea there was anything harmful and the dogs kept running until they passed out and died.
When dogs get older, they have poorer air exchange. Small dogs like Yorkies and Pomeranians tend to have weak tracheal cartilage (windpipe) so their tracheas collapse preventing good airflow to and from the lungs. Large dogs like Labrador Retrievers are prone to Laryngeal paralysis (Lar-Par) where the airway doesn’t open all the way because the nerve leading to it weakens. Since their larynx doesn’t open all the way, they have to breathe really hard through a narrow opening and they make a loud guttural sound each time they breathe. Both Lar-par and tracheal collapse dogs get worse when they are nervous and hot and need more oxygen.
The most important thing for heat stress is prevention, but if you notice your dog overheating, make sure to bring him into cool area. If you have to, pick him up if he is too tired to walk. Stay calm and don’t stress him out or drag him. Bring him water and offer but don’t force him to drink. Take a washcloth and dip in cool water and apply to all four foot pads and around the perineum. Don’t immerse him completely in water but get key areas like the paws, ears, and perineum wet with cool water or rubbing alcohol. Keep going over these areas. If he does not respond and has dangerous signs (like purple or blue gingival gum color, worsening breathing sounds, or neurological impairment), continue to act calm around the dog while someone else starts a car with the air conditioning running. When the car interior is very cool, transfer the dog to the car and take him to your local animal clinic or animal emergency hospital. They will start intravenous fluids and oxygen to the heat stress crisis.