It was a sight I won’t forget any time soon. It was the birthday party of my late yellow Labrador, Banana (yes, I threw her parties—so judge me), and one of the guests was an overweight pug.
It was a summer afternoon in May, so although we had water bowls and electric fans all over the garden as well as sufficient shade, the pug didn’t look too happy after a while, and seemed to be staggering as she walked.
Good thing there were three vets among our guests. I remember one of them, Dr. Nielsen Donato, taking one look at the dog, and asking for a basin of ice, which he covered with a towel before practically dunking the pug in it. She survived, but her clueless mom didn’t quite know what happened.
Years later, our senior black Labrador, Larry, displayed the same disorientation, and was drooling excessively. It was a good thing I was listening to Doc Nielsen, so we spirited Larry off to the clinic, where he was subjected to heatstroke first aid, including an infusion of cold water.
That’s also how I learned to use a rectal thermometer to check if his body temperature, which had hit a precarious 41°C, had gone down. Luckily it did, but we had to take extra precautions to keep that incident from happening again for the remaining years of Larry’s life.
Both incidents highlight two conditions that predispose dogs to this danger. “Short-nosed or brachycephalic breeds like bulldogs and pugs are prone to heatstroke,” says Dr. Nick Carpio of Vets in Practice (who, incidentally, was at Banana’s birthday party, too).
“Thick-coated breeds like Siberian huskies, golden retrievers and chow chows are very susceptible, as well.” Add the fact that Larry had thick black fur, and you know these guys are vulnerable to hot weather.
With temperatures in this tropical country reaching ridiculous levels (climate change, anyone?), it’s not just people who are suffering. Yet, many pet owners are clueless about the dangers of heatstroke. Facebook is full of idiots posting heartfelt goodbyes to “beloved” dead pets—who they just happened to leave tied up in the garage in the middle of a hot day, with no drinking water.
Dead in 15 minutes
Chew on this: 50 percent of heatstroke cases in dogs prove fatal. It can kill them within 15 minutes of hitting a critical body temperature of around 43°C, during which time organ failure can begin; the normal body temperature of a dog is 38.5°C.
So what exactly is heatstroke? “It’s a condition where a dog’s body temperature goes beyond the critical level,” says Doc Nick. “If the temperature goes higher than normal, 39.5 to 40, the dog is considered to be in a feverish state. But when it reaches 40 or higher, you have to consider other factors like the breed, where it is staying, and its last activity, to diagnose heatstroke.”
What causes heatstroke, aside from certain physical characteristics of an animal? Excessive activity or exercise in very hot weather, leaving a dog in a hot car or room, and lack of drinking water and ventilation can kill. Senior dogs are also especially at risk.
Symptoms can range from heavy panting and drooling thick saliva, glassy eyes, disorientation, and a fast heart rate (just put your hand above your pet’s heart, behind the animal’s left front leg), to red or purple gums, seizure or even collapse.
First aid for heatstroke, aside from rushing him to the vet, includes the following steps:
1) Give the animal a wet towel or ice pack to lie on. I would wrap several ice packs in face towels and apply them particularly to Larry’s abdomen and chest area, where the vital organs are.
2) Give them water, tepid at first, then add ice. Do NOT wet the dog with ice water, as the shock could be dangerous.
3) Transfer the dog to a cool place, like an air-conditioned room, or in front of an electric fan.
4) Learn to monitor the dog’s temperature.
“Consider where your dog is staying or hanging out,” advises Dr. Nick. “In summer, they have to stay in cool, shaded places. Marble floors can actually help cool body temperature. Bathing them more than twice a week will help. Putting them in an air-conditioned room, especially if they have thick hair, will help, but an electric fan is okay, too. And the drinking water should not be in just one place, but there should be bowls wherever the dog roams.”
If I may add more tips from experience:
1) Earn your dog’s trust enough for him/her to allow you to stick a thermometer up his/her rectum. This is critical knowledge for any responsible dog owner. A digital thermometer costs about P200 at Mercury Drug, and it can save your pet’s life.
2) Schedule walks for early morning or evening, even just for this season. And that thing about checking if the ground is too hot to walk on? If the asphalt or concrete burns your feet, it will burn your dog’s paw pads.
3) When we’re outdoors, I bring a sprayer (the ones they use for plants) of cooled water to spritz in their faces or bellies.
4) Consider frozen treats. I make ice cubes out of Yakult (good for their stomachs) or chicken broth, which they love.
Think about heatstroke risk when you’re getting a dog, especially if you’re into long-haired breeds. Then again, even my sturdy aspins are not immune to this blasted heat.
Don’t be a moron and buy an Alaskan malamute or a chow chow if you don’t have air conditioning at home, or don’t want to spend money on an electric fan for the animal.
Heck, if you don’t want to spend on your dog’s health or safety, get a pet rock, grow cacti, or just look at pictures. The cost is part of the commitment when getting a dog—especially an expensive, high-maintenance breed.
Remember: Pets are not things. They need responsible care—and the Philippine summer can be a deadly time for them if you don’t take precautions.