Monday, August 1, 2011

When is it too hot to take your dog with you?

Try Orion Oaks Dog Park on a hot day. It has a lake!
Reader Alayne Hansen emailed me this morning about an experience she had this weekend that angered and concerned her.
She wrote that, while attending an outdoor event this weekend — you know, one of those events hosted entirely on concrete, like so many fairs and festivals this time of year — she was "horrified to see pet owners walking their dogs on the blazing cement and nearly unbearable heat."
In particular, she told me about a long-haired dog struggling to walk, stumbling around and, I'm sure, alternately lifting his paws up.
Hansen told the dog's owner that it was unsafe to continue on with the dog in the extreme temperatures and scorching cement. He didn't care. Neither did the police.
So folks, let's talk about how to gauge when it is too hot out for your dog.

What is the surface of the ground and how hot is it? 
Taking your dog for a walk in the woods during yesterday's 90 degree temperatures would've been pretty safe. The Earth, especially dirt packed trails, stays much cooler than man-made surfaces, and the shade helps too.
Still, the extreme heat begs for extra caution — so perhaps you shorten that walk, come prepared with portable water dishes, etc.
If your walk or outing is planned for concrete or asphalt surfaces, though, it can be quite dangerous for your dog.
The easiest thing to do is to put the palm of your hand on the ground and hold it there for at least 30 seconds.
If you can't do that because it's too hot, then it's too hot for your dog to be walking on it.
Remember that paws are a primary temperature regulating tool for dogs, and their bellies aren't too far behind.
This means that while a dog might be able to handle the hot temperatures if, say, he was hanging out on the grass in the backyard or joining you for a walk down a wooded trail, the concrete/asphalt surface can increase the effects of the heat on your dog substantially, to the point that it is not safe for him to be outside.

Signs that your dog is struggling with the heat
Uncontrollable panting, bright red gums and an air of disorientation are signs that your dog may be only moments away from heat stroke, which can be deadly.
Also, if a dog is alternately lifting paws, you have a serious problem as well. This applies in both winter and summer.
Essentially, the dog is lifting it's paws because the ground is either burning them or freezing them.
Hot asphalt can burn paw pads.

What to do if your dog looks too hot
Get the dog cool as quick as possible. If you don't see a near-immediate improvement, rush to the emergency clinic.
Move your dog to an air conditioned environment or put a fan on him.
Dip his paws in cold water or put cold rags on the bottom of his paws, the top of his head and his belly.
Water, water, water.
Ice cubes are another idea. My dog thinks they're treats. On hot days, I put a whole tray of ice cubes in his water to help keep it cool too.
Read this story for more detailed information about preventing against heat stroke and the dangers associated with it, Veterinarians warn that with high temps, heat stroke can be fatal for dogs

The lesson
There's lots of great outdoor events taking place right now, as it is summer in Michigan.
When it is this hot outside, though, take a moment to evaluate whether it's really going to be a good environment for your dog.
If it's 90 degrees with blazing sun and sticky humidity and the event is on concrete or asphalt, please leave your dog at home.
And if you forgot to think about it, when you look down at your dog and he's panting and looking all together hot and uncomfortable, put your hand down to test the ground.
If it's too hot for your hand, it's too hot for your dog.
Whatever you do, just don't stick your dog in the car while you finish up at the event. Hot cars kill dogs, and it happens incredibly fast.

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