Those friends and family close to me know that I lost two very special dogs, Sam and Shelby to heatstroke.  It was a tragic accident that I have only recently been able to discuss.  Sam was only 14 months old when he died; Shelby was 1 year old.  I was out of town for the weekend and had a couple looking after the dogs.  One of the hot water heaters located in the attic exploded sending water gushing down 2 levels of the house.  I received a phone call at 6:00 am telling me of the damage.  I told Les and Lorraine to put the Sally, Sam and Shelby in their crates in the bonus room because I had contacted our carpet cleaner to come by to extract as much water as possible.  I didn’t want the dogs running in and out of the front door when he came in with his equipment and quite frankly EVERYONE is a little nervous coming in the house with Sally.  Little did I know that the damage was way beyond water-extraction.  The air-conditioning in my bonus room is on a separate system.  I asked my house-sitters to lower the temperature and as they were celebrating their anniversary, I told them to go ahead to brunch and the dogs would be fine for 3-4 hours crated.

Sadly, that was not the case.  The thermostat for the bonus room which had been acting up and supposedly was fixed reverted to heat instead of air-conditioning.  The result is that the temperature in the room rose to over 100°.  When Les and Lorraine returned Sam had died, Shelby was holding on to life by a thread and Sally was wobbly.  In shock, they tried in vain to revive Shelby, and were able to cool down Sally.  In the end I lost 2 precious dogs who I had spent a year training and grooming to be the best example of therapy dogs around.  The set-back to me and my family was huge and I still have days that I think of those trusting wonderful dogs and what I put them through.

My reason for sharing this story with you is to warn you about how easily a dog can succumb to heat stroke.  It’s actually against Charlotte city ordinances to leave a dog in the car.  But heat stroke can occur in many other places other than in a vehicle.

One misconception is to shave off the dogs hair in the summer to cool it down.  I know that people have the impression that a dog is wearing a hot fur coat, but the reality is that the dog’s coat protects him from sunburn, from (some) bug bites, from cold and even from the heat.

As illogical as it seems, shaving a dog does not make it cooler. Professional grooming with hot water and high velocity dryers can get out the dense undercoat that holds the heat, leaving your dog’s outer protective (cooling) coat intact. A trim can make it easier to manage for brushing, swimming and bug searches, but don’t shave your collie, Lab, golden retriever, Newfie and the like.

The coming heat and humidity affect your dog just as they do you. Make sure your dog has access to shade or a cool, ventilated spot to rest, with plenty of fresh water available. You’ll notice that your dog pants when it is hot. Dogs don’t sweat through their skin as we do. They lower their body temperature through panting, and must be able to do so. The more they pant, the more they’ll need to re-hydrate by drinking fresh water.

Unless it’s raining and cloudy, do not leave your dog in a parked car even for a brief time. Intending to be “just a few minutes,” we are often delayed or distracted. Those few minutes can unintentionally become sufficient time for a dog to die. The interior of a car parked in the sun quickly reaches temperatures or 140 degrees or more – temperatures that quickly and cruelly kill a dog. Even with windows open a crack, the car interior can become a coffin.

It may seem like a good idea to leave the engine running and the air conditioning on – but what if the engine stalls? With the windows shut tight, the car will heat up in minutes. Parking in the shade isn’t enough since a shady spot becomes sunny as the sun moves.

Don’t run or exercise a dog strenuously when it is very hot. If your dog does get overheated, allow him to drink small amounts of water, wait a few minutes, let him drink again, remove the water, and repeat this process until the dog has had sufficient water to drink.

Watch for symptoms of heat stroke: elevated body temperature (106 degrees), panting with thick mucous slobbering from the mouth, bright red tongue and gums, unsteady, staggered movement, vomiting and diarrhea, leading to collapse and coma. If you see these symptoms, immediate action can save your dog’s life. Get him to a cool area, lay him on his right side and cool him quickly by wetting him, especially the head, neck, belly and groin areas with cold water. If possible, put him on a tile floor or in a tub or wading pool. Gently massage his legs and body. Put a fan on him to speed the cooling process. The object is to get his body temperature down as quickly as possible. While you’re tending to your dog, have someone call the veterinarian so you can immediately take your dog there as soon as his temperature is down. Normal body temperature for a dog is between 100 and 103 degrees.

Fast action can mean the difference between life and death. Use common sense for your dog’s care and enjoy a wonderful summer together.

Remember, if you have a busy day and want a fun place for your dog to hang out for the day, book him in for doggy day care at The Dog Knowledge.  We have plenty of “cool” activities and safe play for a hot summer’s day.

-Debbie Lange, Dog Knowledge Trainer