POLK COUNTY — If you’re outside on a hot day and having trouble cooling down, chances are your four-legged friend is already in trouble.
Warmer weather makes it enticing to get outside with your dog and enjoy the Oregon summer. There’s an endless list of things to do for the outdoor-lover, and no better companion to do them with than your dog.
When I go on rock climbing trips during the spring and summer, it is common that I see as many dogs as humans in the park. When I’m hiking, I lose count of how many dogs I see pulling their owners down the trail. I’ll even see a pooch on the end of a paddle board at Detroit Lake, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, looking happy as can be. Dogs are the best adventure buddies.
However, subjecting an animal to hot outdoor conditions for long periods of time without the proper precautions is dangerous.
“Heatstroke is a big problem in the summer here because people forget it gets warm here,” Dr. Thomas Keck of Dallas Animal Clinic said.
The transition from spring to summertime in Oregon is often rapid: one day can be 70 degrees and the next can soar to 85, which means pups, like humans, can have trouble adapting to the increasing — and inconsistent — temperatures.
Heatstroke, a condition in which the dog can no longer cool himself down due to a failure of the body’s temperature-regulating mechanisms, can be caused by a number of things.
“The major thing we get into trouble with is people putting dogs in cars or runs in full sunlight, and they don’t have any shade, and then no water,” Keck said. “The preventions are really rather straightforward,” he added. “Fresh, cool water available at all times. There’s never a thing as too much water.”
Other preventative tips are avoiding taking your dog on walks or to the dog park in the heat of the day, avoid strenuous activity in the heat of the day, and never go anywhere without water for your dog and for you.
Some dogs are more at risk for heatstroke than others, such as the bulldog, the pug — any dog with a shorter snout — and dogs with double coats, like German or Australian shepherds.
Symptoms of heatstroke in dogs include: excessive panting, excessive drooling, thick red tongue, dry and tacky gums, a rapid or erratic pulse, weakness, confusion, a wobbly or unstable gait, vomiting, diarrhea, little or no urine output, sudden collapse, and seizures.
A dog’s normal temperature is anywhere between 100.5-102.5, according to Keck, and if it rises any higher than that, the dog is at risk for a number of possible irreversible issues, such as organ failure, cardiac arrest, blood clots, and death.
If you suspect your pup is having a heatstroke, “The sooner you get them in (to a vet), the better,” Keck said.
Sarah Desmarais, a Salem resident, has had personal experience with watching her German shepherd suffer a heatstroke. While on a bike ride at Minto Brown Park, she said Maverick, whose breed is known for stamina and the ability to be on the go for long periods of time, began lagging behind and no longer wanting to run.
Then he collapsed.
“After he collapsed he was carried to the side of the road where help was found,” Desmarais said. “He was then rushed to the vet, where they applied cool water (not cold, cold can cause their bodies to go into shock) to his paws and belly to help slowly bring his body temperature down and fluids were given by IV. After that he was given a cold water enema to further help lower his temperature.”
Desmarais said she and her boyfriend Lucas Ettinger were scared, and they thought Maverick wasn’t going to make it.
Maverick pulled through, and now, Desmarais and Ettinger have advice for anyone who owns an animal, and urges pet owners to pay attention to the signs of heatstroke in animals.
“Always have a bunch of water on hand, small towel, maybe even a spray bottle to spritz while exercising. Part of the issue was, he’s a double-coated dog and his breed is the type that will go until collapse. Be aware of the temperature; even if it doesn’t seem too hot out, be wary,” Desmarais said.
What to do if your dog is having heatstroke:
Removing the dog from the heat as quickly as possible followed by an immediate phone call to your vet. Calling the vet on the way is crucial so they can be prepared to move into action as soon as the dog comes in.
If getting to a veterinarian right away is not possible, begin cooling the dog down with a spray bottle, hose, or by placing them in a cool bath or air-conditioned car. The dog should never be immersed in or given cold or ice-cold water, because cooling an overheating dog too fast can cause its blood vessels to constrict, which slows down heat dissipation.
Once your dog is damp or cool, place him in front of a fan with ice packs applied to his groin area, neck, armpits and paw pads.
Having a dog experience heatstroke is scary, so learning what to do to avoid it is crucial as a responsible animal owner.