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Each season has its own pitfalls and hazards, and summer is no exception. One of the most dangerous of the summer hazards is the heat, which can lead to not only sunburns and burns from hot pavement or sand, but also dangerous conditions such as heat stroke and dehydration. These dangers are compounded when dogs are left without adequate shelter or water or when they are confined in a car on even a slightly warm day.
The heat of summer can lead to anything from sunburn to heat stroke. Most of the conditions caused by summer heat are relatively easy to prevent.
The symptoms that dogs may experience depend on the manner that the heat affects the dog. Dogs that are exposed to ambient heat that causes heat exhaustion and heat stroke will show signs such as excessive panting, bright red gums and tongue, and a lack of coordination and may be accompanied by the signs of dehydration such as tacky gums, lethargy, and loss of skin elasticity. Dogs with burnt paw pads may be reluctant to walk, will spend an excessive time licking their feet, and may even lose the thick pads that protect their paws, while sunburned dogs will show red, swollen skin with possible cracking and curling in severe cases.
The most common canine contact burns due to summer heat are burns to the bottom of the paws from walking on surfaces such as rock and sand, metal, and concrete that have been heated by the sun. Metal food or water bowls that are left in the hot sun may also occasionally cause burns to the face.
Although dehydration can certainly occur without elevated temperatures, heat greatly increases the chances of this potentially fatal condition developing.
This is a serious condition and potentially fatal in a relatively short amount of time. When a dog’s body temperature reaches 107 degrees or above the animal is susceptible to brain damage and multiple organ failures.
Although thick fur can provide some measure of protection, canine skin is vulnerable to damages from UV rays and dogs with sparse or light fur or light skin are more likely to be affected.
Confinement in a car - This is an extremely dangerous practice as the temperature in a closed car can reach 104 degrees in just half an hour even when the temperature outside is in the low 70’s and when the temperature outside is 95 degrees, the temperature in the car can reach a deadly 114 degrees in just ten minutes
Lack of foot protection - Walking on hot surfaces can lead to burned paw pads when the feet are unprotected; petroleum jelly can provide some protection from the heat, but ensuring that walks occur during cooler times of the day, such as early morning or evening, or employing protective booties are typically more effective methods
Unprotected exposure to UV rays - Dogs who are exposed to excessive UV rays without adequate protection from the sun may get sunburns and are more likely to develop cancers of the skin
The examination and testing methods used will be dependent on the symptoms that are being exhibited by the animal, although most visits will start with a thorough physical examination. During the examination for this type of condition, the veterinarian will typically evaluate the color of the gums and tongue and the state of the animal’s skin as well as closely examining the paw pads.
Standard diagnostic tests, such as a complete blood count, biochemical profile, urinalysis, and a fecal analysis, will help to determine if there are any additional illnesses or conditions that may be contributing to the disorder and in many cases, further tests to assess the packed cell volume (PCV) and total plasma proteins (TPP) may help to uncover if dehydration is present. If there is a suspicion that any of the internal organs may be affected, then imaging techniques such as ultrasound imaging and x-ray technology may be used to determine the magnitude of any internal damage.
The treatment of conditions that are caused by the heat of summer will depend on which condition your dog is manifesting. If your dog has suffered a simple sunburn, then an oatmeal bath or application of aloe vera gel may be effective in soothing skin, and vitamin E and coconut oil are often recommended as moisturizers to speed the skin’s healing, but it is important to wait for a day or two after the burn occurred to avoid trapping heat with the oils. If the burning on the paw pads is mild, treatment is similar to that of sunburn, however, if the pad is badly burnt a veterinary professional may need to clean and bandage the foot to protect it.
If you believe your dog to be suffering from heat exhaustion, it is imperative to reduce the animal’s core temperature as soon as possible. Move them to shade or indoors and use slightly cool water on the dog’s belly and groin area; avoid cold water or ice as it can trap heat by constricting blood vessels. Dogs that are showing signs of dehydration should be offered fresh, clear water, within easy reach. If your dehydrated dog is refusing to drink, is vomiting, or if they don’t show signs of recovery shortly after drinking, contact your veterinarian right away as dehydration can be fatal if left untreated.
If your canine companion is in distress when you bring them into the clinic, then supportive treatment will most likely be started as quickly as possible, often before the diagnosis has been confirmed. Supportive treatment for the more severe symptoms related to excessive amounts of heat generally includes the administration of intravenous fluids to prevent or reverse dehydration and help to adjust for any imbalances in the blood chemistry.
The kind of disorders that can be brought about by summer heat are generally easier to prevent than to treat. During the hot summer months, it may be wiser to walk your dog when it is cooler, in the evening and morning time rather than in the heat of the afternoon. If you are outside when the sun is up you may want to provide your dog with booties as protection from the hot concrete or sand, and if they have any areas that are white or sparsely furred, then sunscreen formulated for dogs should be used to protect those areas. Dogs who have very thick coats may be more comfortable in the summer heat if they are clipped or shaven to allow more air flow.
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