Canine Health in the Heat

Most pet canines have the luxury of staying indoors in the air conditioning or if outdoors they find shade or dig and make themselves a bed in the cool dirt. Working canines on the other hand, are leaving the air conditioned house and have to work in...


It is now mid-July and we are experiencing the heat of summer.  Some of the areas of the United States, such as the southwest are used to experiencing 100 degree plus temperatures.  Many areas are experiencing record breaking heat that they just aren’t used to.  For us as humans, it can be easy to combat this heat; we take off clothing, go in the swimming pool, take a cool shower, turn on the air conditioning and fans, etc.  For our canines though, they rely on US to keep them comfortable.  When our bodies get hot, we start to sweat to help cool our bodies, but canines only sweat to a small degree from their paws pads.  Even for a giant breed with huge paws, this is not a very large area to be sweating from to control heat.  The other way that canines control their body temperature is by panting, which is an attempt to exchange warm air with cool air.  But, panting isn’t really efficient either when the air temperature is close to or about their body temperature.

Most pet canines have the luxury of staying indoors in the air conditioning or if outdoors they find shade or dig and make themselves a bed in the cool dirt.  Working canines on the other hand, are leaving the air conditioned house and have to work in the heat as we do.  Years ago, canines would be put in the back of a cruiser and had limited air conditioning, which in many cases ended up being an open window.  Thankfully today, we have many options for keeping our canines cool in the summer (and warm in the winter).  We have air conditioning for the canine compartment, thermostatically controlled cooling fans, electronic temperature warning devices that alert us and can lower a window, and security devices that allows us to keep the car running and our canines cool while we are out of the car.

All this is great, but we still must be paying attention to our canine partner and what signs they are showing when it comes to heat stroke and dehydration.  Here is a list of a few things that can cause heat stroke in canines:

  • Strenuous exercise/work in hot, humid conditions
  • Long exposure to hot concrete or asphalt surfaces
  • No fresh water or shade in hot weather
  • History of heat stroke
  • Confined to car in hot weather without temperature control devices
  • Hear and/or lung disease that prevents efficient breathing

Temperatures rise and canine’s panting is common, but what we must watch for is heavy panting and difficulty breathing along with bright red tongue and mucous membranes.  The saliva becomes thick and canines will often vomit.  I’m sure most canine handlers don’t keep a rectal thermometer in their canine first aid kit, but it isn’t a bad idea to add one.  The normal body temperature for a canine is 100.5°F to 102.5°F.  When the body temperature gets into the 104°F to 110°F range, your canine is in the danger zone and generally becomes progressively unsteady and will pass bloody diarrhea.  The lips and mucous membranes will turn gray as shock set in, followed by collapse, seizures, coma and death rapidly follows.

When you’re on the chase for the armed robber suspect and your blood is pumping a million miles an hours, as well as your canines; but you cannot forget to watch for the signs of heat stroke.  We often think of our canine as being amazing and will do whatever we ask of him or her, but they can succumb to the heat just as we can. 

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