How Dogs Can Beat the Heat
When temperatures are high, keeping cool is critical, not only for us, but for our pets. We know what to do to cool down. However, for dogs, it's not so simple.
Humans have sweat glands from head to toe. But dogs sweat only in certain areas, which makes them more susceptible to health complications and heatstroke.
How Canine Sweat Glands Work
Your dog has two types of sweat glands — merocrine glands and apocrine glands.
Merocrine glands are similar to our sweat glands. They are located in a pup's paw pads, so they may feel damp on hot days, or you'll notice their paw prints on the ground. Because dogs are covered in fur, if they could sweat elsewhere on their bodies, it would not evaporate.
Apocrine glands are technically considered sweat glands, but they don't really work in to cool a dog off. They are located all over a dog's body, but their primary purpose is to release pheromones and help dogs identify other dogs through scent.
Dogs Regulate Their Temperature in Other Ways
When a dog pants, their tongue, nasal passages, and the lining of their lungs evaporate moisture as air passes over the moist tissues in their bodies.
Dogs also rely on vasodilation — the expansion of blood vessels in their body — to cool them down. As their blood vessels expand, they bring blood closer to the skin, mostly around their ears and face. This allows it to cool down before it returns to organs, thus regulating the dog's body temperature.
Even with vasodilation, panting, and merocrine glands, a dog's ability to sweat is quite limited. Extreme heat poses a great danger to dogs. They suffer its effects through heat stress, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke, which can prove to be fatal.
How Heatstroke Can Occur
When a dog's body temperature goes beyond 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius), it is considered abnormal. A body temperature above 106 degrees Fahrenheit in a healthy dog denotes excessive heat exposure and heatstroke. Organ failure and death occur when a dog's temperature reaches 107 degrees Fahrenheit and beyond.
Heatstroke occurs when a dog is left outside without shade or water on a hot day. It can also happen when exercising a dog in warmer temperatures or even when a pup is left under a hairdryer for too long at the groomer. However, the most common cause of heatstroke in dog occurs when it is left in a car on a hot day with inadequate ventilation. Even with a window or two cracked, a dog's body temperature can elevate to dangerous levels within minutes.
The symptoms of heatstroke are heavy panting, fast or irregular heartbeat, dry or sticky gums, abnormal gum color, excessive drooling, vomiting, muscle tremors, lethargy, disorientation, seizures, and unconsciousness.
Any dog can suffer heatstroke, but it is more dangerous for obese dogs, darker-coated dogs, and brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs, whose flat faces and short noses make it harder for them to breathe and pant.
Summer Safety Tips for Your Dog
You can't change your dog's ability to shed heat, but you can help your best friend stay cool during the summer. In extreme temperatures, keep your dog inside (of course, run the AC and/or fans if you have them), and keep their exercise at a minimum, particularly during the warmest hours of the day.
If your dog is outdoors, make sure he has plenty of water and shade. Cooling vests will also keep a dog cool, inside and outside the home.
Do not leave your dog unattended in a car during the warmer months, as temperatures can quickly climb to dangerous levels. Also, if your dog is double-coated, do not shave them, as his coat acts as an insulator — it keeps him cool in the summer months.
Treatment for Heatstroke
According to the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), dogs have the best chance of survival from heatstroke by lowering their temperature gradually. Move them to a cool, shaded area, and pour cool (not cold) water over his body and allow him to drink cool water.
Continue cooling him in this way, until his breathing begins to normalize. Once he's cool and appears stable, have your vet check him out as soon as possible.