Perhaps the most anticipated time of year, summer is a time of relaxation, rejuvenation, and activity for both people and their animals. It is the most popular time of year to travel and participate in outdoor sports and activities, many of which involve pets. These activities are fun as long as you take simple steps to avoid over heating in your pets and a potentially deadly condition called a heat stroke.
Over the course of time dogs have become well adapted to many different areas of the world. Some have thick coats, others have short legs, and still others have long noses. Many dogs, however, have considerable trouble adapting to the blistering heat of southern California. Dogs deal with heat in several different ways. Many dogs will shed their thick coats to provide less insulation and allow better heat exchange. Dogs also contain sweat glands in their footpads and skin which allow them to sweat when hot, much like humans. Perhaps the most common and effective way dogs lose heat is through panting. When dogs pant they force air quickly through the mouth and over the tongue. This causes saliva to be evaporated from the tongue and results in heat loss and cooling of blood in the circulation.
Many dogs, like the Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu, and Bulldog, have short compressed faces. This gives them a very distinctive and charming look, however, it changes the normal anatomy of the face, mouth, and tongue. These breeds typically have smaller nostrils, tracheas, and longer tissues in the mouth. These changes can get in the way of breathing and are responsible for the characteristic snorting sounds heard in these breeds. They also make it very difficult for effective heat exchange and breathing to occur. Breeds like the Siberian Husky, Chow Chow, and Shepherds, have thick coats which trap heat and prevent effective heat loss even when normal panting is occurring.
Whenever there is extensive exposure to heat or when a dog cannot cool itself rapidly enough, there is risk of an extremely dangerous condition called a heat stroke. A dog having a heat stroke will experience panting, salivation, muscle tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, seizures, and even death. This is an emergency condition and the dog should see a veterinarian immediately.
While heat strokes can be deadly, there are simple steps you can take to protect your pet. Always bring extra water for your pet and encourage them to drink frequently before they are too hot. Collapsible bowls can be used and are easy to travel with. Provide shade or relief from direct sunlight and allow your pet ample time to recover from heat exposure. Never leave your pet in the car or confined space without air conditioning and heat control. For dogs with thick coats, trimming or shaving the coats in the hot months may provide relief from heat. For dogs with short faces, take it slow and monitor their progress and ability to cope with the heat. Most dogs will work and exercise even though they are not feeling well, so it is important to prevent over exertion by allowing dogs to rest, keeping them well hydrated, and providing ample shade. Remember, it is much easier to prevent diseases than to treat them.