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Protect Your Pets From the Heat

Because the weather stays warm in most of the Bay Area well into October, the problems our pets suffer during the summer, such as overheating and burning their paws on hot pavement, are still relevant.

One piece of information essential to any discussion about hot days is, “Why do veterinarians harp on the heat so much?” What is it about dogs, and to a lesser degree, cats, that makes hot temperature such a big deal? Because they do not have sweat glands all over their body like humans do, dogs and cats cannot get rid of
heat and cool themselves down with the ease that humans can. They must rely on their ability to pant in order to cool down. The exchange of heat across their moist mucous membranes in their mouths and respiratory tracts is their only natural defense against overheating, which puts them at a great disadvantage compared to humans.

A special note for people who have pet rabbits: Heat kills. Rabbits have narrow, deep mouth cavities that make panting inefficient at best. Rabbits need ice bottles and fans to stay cool when it hits 75 to 80 degrees outside. Better yet, have them inside an air-conditioned space when possible.

Because some dog breeds have been bred to have those adorable, pushed-in faces, they cannot effectively use panting to cool down either. These beloved brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs, bulldogs, and Japanese chins, cannot tolerate the heat. They have folds of tissue in their pharynx at the back of their throats, long soft palates, and small windpipes, which make it difficult to get enough air by panting to cool themselves. Boxers, pit bulls, many mastiff breeds, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels, among other breeds, are especially prone to heat strokes, as their shortened snouts are unable to take in enough air.

Taking our pets wherever we go, regardless of the weather, can be a huge danger for them. A few different groups, including humane societies, note that in a car parked in the shade, with the windows rolled partially down, on a day where the outside temperature is 85 degrees, it takes only 10 minutes for the temperature inside that car to reach 104 degrees. A car parked outside on a lovely day in Berkeley, where the ambient temperature is only 75 degrees, takes 10 minutes to heat up to 94 degrees and just 30 minutes to reach 109 degrees. For those of us in the far East Bay, like Oakley, where we often have 90-degree or hotter days, the same car in the shade, with windows partially rolled down, results in the temperature hitting 109 degrees in
10 minutes and 124 degrees in 30 minutes.

The first physical symptoms of heat stroke include heavy panting, increased heart rate, and bright red mucus membranes, with ropey, thick saliva. Dogs also become unsteady if they try to walk and will usually lay down, unwilling to go farther. Vomiting, diarrhea, or both are then seen, sometimes with blood. Dogs will finally collapse and become unresponsive. At the first sign of heat stroke, offer plenty of cool water, wet them down, and cover them with cool, wet towels. Take them as soon as possible to the nearest veterinary hospital for professional care. Do not assume that bringing them inside and offering water is enough. Dogs can die from heat stroke in as little as 15 minutes from the onset of symptoms.

Another health problem related to the heat that veterinarians see are dogs with burned feet from walking on the hot pavement. On a sunny 77-degree day, asphalt will be 125 degrees on the surface. Since dogs’ paws are no thicker than the bottom of our feet, pavement that is too hot for us to walk on is also too hot for them to stand on. An effective way to check this is to place the back of your hand on the street or the sidewalk for seven to 10 seconds. If you are uncomfortable in just a few seconds, it is too hot for your dog to walk on the pavement. Since the ground heats up as the day goes on, walk your dog in the morning before 10 a.m. or late in the evening after the sun has set and the ground has cooled. A walk on grass is a good alternative if available, but do not forget to bring water for your dog and yourself.

April Ervin, D.M.V., is a veterinarian at Cypress Veterinary Hospital in Oakley. Learn more at CypressVetHospital.net.

Are you a San Francisco Bay Area veterinarian who would like to write an article for the Ask Dr. Dog column, which is authored by guest veterinarians practicing in the Bay Area? Bay Woof is accepting submissions. Send email to Editor@BayWoof.com.

Main article photo by: FotosetbyJames-istock