Don’t let the summer heat harm your pet

This is a story I wrote for the Bangor Daily News publication The Weekly (published on June 21), but the message is universal and bears repeating. Please, if you’re out with your dog, watch to make sure they’re having fun (and not overheating). If there’s any question about what’s happening, visit your vet.

This summer ensure that your furry friends have as much fun in the sun as you do. Because pets don’t sweat like we do, it can be tough to decipher what’s just due to overexertion and what’s due to something more dangerous.

Greyhounds run in the large field at Maine Greyhound Placement Service in May. This field was much larger than the one Laura (second from right ) usually runs in. Temperate conditions combined with over exertion led to a dangerous condition known as heat stroke for poor Laura. While she’s recovered with no ill effects, it was a wakeup call to be more mindful of summertime fun.

Recently, my greyhound Laura and I were at a playdate at Maine Greyhound Placement Service in Augusta with a dozen or more greyhounds. The afternoon was warm, and we released the dogs to have a good romp in an enclosed field. The field they were playing in was four times larger than the yard she normally plays in, and they were having a blast running around the field, challenging each other.

The next thing I knew, she was panting hard (not unusual) and laid down to rest. She got up and ran a little more when the other dogs took off.

Then it started getting weird.

Noticing that she was getting tired, I took her over to an area with dandelions for an impromptu photo. She got back up, but was moving slowly. Someone asked if she was limping. I didn’t see anything wrong. However, it was very unusual.

I decided that it was time to take a bit of a break in the shade, we headed for the shade of a large fir tree. She laid down and was panting hard. She staggered to her feet, turned around in the shade, and laid down with a thud.

Mouse (the rottweiler on the left) laid down with Laura (to right) while she was in the throes of heat stroke and waited with her until help arrived. (Photo by Debra Bell)

At this point, the other owners and I decided it was time to seek help. While someone ran for Louise Sawyer, a vet tech with MGPS, we started wetting Laura with water. We put water on her head and in her armpits and groin area. We loosened her collar and removed the muzzle she wears when she plays with other greyhounds.

Louise showed up and after pouring more water on Laura, one of my friends carried her to the clinic that was on site. In the clinic, the first order was to check her body temperature. It was 105.2 degrees, higher than the temperature of 103 degrees that is normal for it being a warm day.

The next order of business was to start lowering her temperature to the normal range of 102 degrees. We did this by getting Laura on an exam table with a cool wet towel. Louise applied wrapped ice packs to Laura’s groin, armpits, and the base of her skull and applied rubbing alcohol on her feet and neck. For added coverage, Louise gave her IV fluids to replenish her fluids and oxygen to help her breathe easier. Within 15 minutes she was back to “normal” and I was breathing a sigh of relief.

But, had we not been close to a clinic or animal hospital, there were still things I could do to help bring her temperature down while I took her to get help.

Keeping your dog happy and cool

According to Dr. David Cloutier from Veazie Veterinary Clinic in Veazie, warm weather can be tough for dogs. But by paying attention to the signs they’re giving, you can ensure your pup will stay cool in the heat.

Be aware of your dog’s behavior. At the start of the walk, your dog might be walking or running ahead of you, investigating the things around you and acting energetic. As the dog gets hotter, it might start sticking close, lagging behind, and panting. Pet owners should be aware especially of when a dog starts to pant “almost uncontrollably with the tongue swollen and hanging out,” according to Cloutier. At that point, it’s time to find shade.

If your dog begins to experience weakness, stumbling, sitting, or laying down like Laura did, it’s time to find shade, offer cool water, and take a break to let her internal temperature drop.

“Some owners also see bloody diarrhea,” Cloutier said. “Once the dog’s temperature hits 106 or 107, they’re in trouble. And anything over 104 is high.”

Help your dog cool down. The things that we did for Laura are great for any dog that’s overheating or experiencing heat illness issues. Step one is to remove the dog from the action.

“If a dog is in a position where it’s being pushed past beyond its normal level of behavior, or if we are [pushing it], the dog won’t stop on its own. An adult needs to look at the situation and say that this is too much for the dog and we need to stop,” Cloutier said.

If, after the dog has had a chance to catch its breath, it begins behaving normally again, then activity can resume.

Step two is providing the dog with things to help it recover from the heat. This includes cool water, shade, and rest. If you’re at home, icepacks wrapped in paper towels can help bring temps down faster. And rubbing alcohol is a great way to cool down because it evaporates and cools at the same time.

“If the dog becomes normal within 10-15 minutes, it’s probably [doesn’t mean] a trip to the hospital,” Cloutier said. “If it gets worse, it’s time to head in [to a veterinary clinic or hospital].”

Groomed to cool. Good grooming matters when it comes to keeping your pooch cool, Cloutier said. “Most dogs have a dense undercoat, which needs to be groomed out,” he said. That undercoat, when groomed properly, can contribute to proper heat control. This combined with access to fresh, cool water and shade makes summer a happy time for pup.