Here in Florida, it never really gets cold in the winter. Our northern friends get reminders about pet hazards with the change of each season, but without true seasonality, it can be easy to forget how dangerous heat really can be for our pets.

Different (heat)strokes for different folks

Pets who are exposed to high environmental temperatures are prone to heatstroke, but the temperature is not the only factor; humidity also plays a role. And, as temperatures and humidity levels rise, the following factors can increase a pet’s risk of developing heatstroke:

  • Head shape — Dog heads come in three basic shapes: brachycephalic (shortest muzzles), mesocephalic (muzzles of medium length), and dolichocephalic (longest muzzles). Brachycephalic breeds are most at risk when it comes to heatstroke. The short muzzles and “pushed-in” faces of breeds like pugs, Lhasa apsos, English bulldogs, and boxers mean they aren’t able to cool themselves as effectively as their longer-faced cousins. Brachycephalic breeds also tend to have extra tissue in their throat area, so moving large quantities of air by panting can be difficult.

  • Age — Pets who are older are more likely to become overheated.

  • Body condition — Overweight or obese pets have a more difficult time tolerating heat and humidity.

  • Additional medical conditions — Some medical conditions, like laryngeal paralysis, can increase a dog’s risk of heatstroke.

Heatstroke can occur in your backyard on particularly hot days, so always ensure your pet has access to shade and fresh, cold water, and don’t leave her outside for too long. The most common site for heatstroke combines heat and humidity for a deadly one-two punch. Add a hot, panting dog to a hot, enclosed space and a beloved dog can quickly succumb to heatstroke in a car. Even with the windows cracked, a car can approach deadly temperatures in a matter of minutes. Play it safe, and leave your pup at home.

Signs of heatstroke vary depending on the severity and can include:

  • Extreme panting
  • Agitation
  • Disorientation
  • Increased salivation
  • Collapse
  • Discolored or dark red gums
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Seizures

Heatstroke is an emergency. If you see signs in your pet, take the following steps immediately:

  1. Remove your pet from the hot environment.
  2. Get some towels wet using cool water—not ice-cold water, which can cause life-threatening complications—and place the wet towels on your pet. Or, you can place your pet into a cool shower.
  3. Call our veterinary clinic (or the nearest emergency hospital if it is after-hours) so we can prepare for your arrival.
  4. Place your pet in an air-conditioned vehicle and drive to our clinic.

Road tripping with your pet

Summer break is the perfect time for road trips, and it wouldn’t be as much fun without your four-legged family member. If you plan to bring your dog with you when you hit the open road, ensure you’re prepared for the long haul:

  • Pack your pet’s veterinary records in case she has an emergency while you’re out of town. If you don’t have a copy, call our office so we can get one to you before you leave.
  • Ensure your pet’s ID tag has your mobile contact information. Better yet, schedule an appointment to get your pet microchipped before you go. Unlike the tag on your pet’s collar, which can be lost, microchipping provides permanent identification.
  • Not all dogs love car rides. If your pet is anxious about car travel, or if she experiences motion sickness, we’d love to discuss medical options that will make the ride smoother for her.
  • Secure your dog safely in the car. Harnesses that can be attached to your car’s seat belt will keep her safe in the event of an accident.

Protecting paw pads

Have you ever tried to walk barefoot on asphalt or sand during a hot summer day? It can be painful, and dogs also feel the burn when walking on these hot surfaces. If possible, walk your pet during the early morning or evening hours when the sun isn’t creating a frying pan out of the asphalt. If you have to walk during the hottest times of day, avoid asphalt and sand to prevent your pup’s paws from burning, or invest in dog booties as a protective barrier.

Parasite control

In our part of the country, your pet never gets a break from disease-carrying parasites, like fleas, ticks, and mosquitos. If you’ve gotten lax about doling out monthly preventives, give us a call to discuss your pet’s options.

We’re glad summer is here, and we want you and your pet to be safe and have fun. Sawgrass Veterinary Center is here to help.