Here in Southern California, we have a dreaded phenomenon known as the Santa Anas, when the normal wind pattern reverses and instead of a nice coastal offshore breeze, we get blistering dry winds pouring in from the desert.
Most of us understand that this affects how we go about our day, and the intrepid make the necessary adjustments so they can continue their normal activities without problems. Unfortunately, there are a number of people who still fall short in the common sense department.
I took my dog Brody for a hike yesterday, starting early because I knew the day was going to hit 80 degrees before noon. When we parked I saw a huge sign out front with a heat warning and a message for people to be sure to bring enough water for themselves as well as their pets. The park ranger told me it’s not uncommon for them to see at least several dogs a year die of heat stroke on the trails, which are remote enough where there is no easy access out other than the way you came in. And it’s tragic because it’s so preventable.
Fortunately, the signs seem to be helping. On this hot day I saw plenty of dogs and people carrying lots of water. We stop at least every 30 minutes to let Brody drink, and he plops himself face first into the bowl with glee. We also picked a trail that curves around a lake, so halfway through he was able to take a dip and then enjoy the cooling evaporation process on the hike back.
Because dogs don’t have sweat glands the way humans do, they are limited to panting as their major cooling effort. (They do have some sweat glands in their paws, though they are not the principal mechanism for cooling.) This, coupled with the insulation effect of their fur, means they are prime candidates for heat exhaustion, particularly if they haven’t been building up to longer walks—which is why the weekend warriors are the ones who so frequently run into trouble.
Everyone should know the signs of heat exhaustion and impending heat stroke in dogs: sluggishness, very heavy panting, bright red gums, hypersalivation (which can progress to the opposite: dry tacky gums), vomiting or diarrhea, and collapse. In the later stages, death can occur rapidly if not treated in an ER.
Certain dogs are especially prone to heat stroke: overweight pets, brachycephalic (flat faced) breeds like pugs and bulldogs, and dogs with dark coats. If you have any suspicion that your dog is showing early signs of heat exhaustion, stop, spray your pet with cool water (NOT ice!), and call an ER for guidance.
Of course, the best solution is to prevent it from happening in the first place by being aware of the risks. Avoid walks during the hottest periods of the day, acclimate your pet to longer walks, and make sure you take plenty of water breaks. And for goodness sake, don’t leave your pet in the car on a hot day. But you knew that one, right?
As we head into the hot months, remember with a little planning there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the great outdoors. Have fun and stay safe