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You’d never leave your dog in a car on a hot summer day. But chances are, you may not think twice about clipping on the leash and taking your hyper Labrador Retriever for a brisk jog or hike.
Unfortunately, it’s just as easy — if not more so — for your dog to get heatstroke that way.
Think about it. When temperatures push into the 80s, you may be wearing shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. But your dog is essentially running in a fur coat. While your body sweats to cool you off, your dog’s body can really only dissipate heat by panting. And when you add humidity to the mix, less moisture is evaporated from your dog’s mouth, so it’s even harder for him to release heat.
And those few extra pounds on your dog that you were hoping to work off? That extra fat actually adds a layer of insulation, further thwarting your dog’s efforts to cool down.
The result? Your dog’s core body temperature can reach as high as 105 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit — significantly higher than 100 to 102.5, the normal body temperature for dogs.
Though there aren’t any statistics about how many dogs suffer from heatstroke each year, a 2006 study published in a veterinary journal examined the medical records of 54 dogs admitted to a veterinary hospital for that reason.
The majority of dogs were brought in during June, July and August, when temperatures were at a peak. Sixty-three percent of the dogs had engaged in strenuous exercise before the incident. Just how long had they been exercising? The median time was 58 minutes, but some had exerted themselves for as little as six minutes.
And the patients in this study weren’t all older, infirm dogs. The median age was 3 years old.
When a dog’s core body temperature reaches dangerous heights, he can suffer from multiple organ failure. That could have contributed to the fact that 50 percent of all the dogs in this study, sadly, didn’t make it. The survival rate was better, though, when the owners were able to rush their dogs to the hospital in less than 90 minutes.
If you take away one message, it’s this: As the temperature and humidity rises, the risk of your dog succumbing to heatstroke does, too — and adding strenuous exercise can quickly make matters worse. To help keep your dog safe this summer:
1.Avoid the heat. Make a point to exercise your dog in the morning or evening when the temperatures and humidity are lower. Or play a game of fetch indoors.
2.Walk, don’t run. If you must take your dog out in the heat, walking is a better option. Try a shorter route, take cool drinking water for your dog, and watch for signs that he’s starting to lag behind, pant more or drool.
3.Keep flat-nosed dogs indoors. The compressed anatomy of brachycephalic dogs can make breathing a challenge, so they’re especially vulnerable to the heat. On hot days, it’s best to keep them in air-conditioned comfort.
4.Lose the extra pounds. If your dog has lost his waistline, talk to your veterinarian about diets and other strategies to help reduce that extra layer of fat.
If you notice anything unusual about your dog’s behavior after being outdoors this summer, when in doubt, call your veterinarian. But with the right precautions, you can still have plenty of fun in the sun with your dog.
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