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The Ruff Report: For dogs, heat stroke really is no sweat

A sunny summer day may seem perfect to you for a walk in the park or along a sandy beach, but these kinds of seemingly delightful days can be quickly turn into a death trap for playful dogs, a leading animal welfare agency warns.

Even short walks along hot pavement, attending outdoor events and sitting inside automobiles - even with windows open - can quickly lead to deadly heat stroke for dogs, who are especially susceptible to it because they lack sweat glands and can only pant to cool down, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

A hot car can be a death trap for dogs, it is as simple as that," Mark Evans veterinary adviser for the Royal SPCA, states in a media release. "Leaving your dog in a car, even on an average warm, even cloudy summer day, can put your pet at huge risk of suffering and even death. This is not a new warning, but sadly too many people still don’t appreciate how dangerous it can be ... Don’t let your dog be the one to find out the hard way.”

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The temperature inside a car can soar to 117 degrees within 60 minutes, even when the outside temperature is just 72 degrees, according to the RSPCA. Opening a window or leaving a bowl of water for your dog will make little difference and still leaves dogs in serious danger of suffering heat stroke.

Dogs have no sweat glands and must pant to help keep themselves cool, but the effectiveness of panting is reduced as the temperature and humidy rise. Excessive panting, a rapid pulse, overly red or purple gums, increased salivation and lack of coordination are warnings signs of heat stroke, according to the RSPCA. More severe signs of heat stroke include a dog's reluctance or inability to rise after collapsing or a pet suffering from seizures, vomiting or diarrhea.

Owners who believe their dogs are suffering from heat stroke should take immediate action, the RSPCA says. Those actions include:
  • Immediately moving your dog to a cooler spot.
  • Slowly dousing your dog with cool, not cold, water or place in the breeze of a fan. Never cool a dog so much that it begins to shiver. 
  • Continuing dousing with cool water until your dog's breathing starts to settle.
  •  Giving your dog small amounts of cool water.
  •  Immediately taking your dog to a veterinarian after he is stable.
Here are some tips from the RSPCA to help keep your dog safe in the sun:
  • Make sure your dog always can move into a cooler, ventilated environment. 
  • Provide a cool, shady spot where you dog can escape from the sun at all times of the day if you have to leave your dog outside.
  • Make sure your dog always has a good supply of drinking water in a weighted bowl that cannot be knocked over.
  • Carry water with you on hot days and give your dog frequent, small amounts. 
  • Groom your dog regularly to get rid of excessive hair. Give long-coated breeds a hair-cut. 
  • Walk your dog early in the morning or later in the evening and never allow your dog to exercise excessively in hot weather. 
  • Use a pet-safe sunscreen to prevent your dogs from getting sunburned. Dogs with with light-colored noses or light colored fur on their ears are at higher risk of sunburn.
Dogs, especially field breeds, are also susceptible to dehydration during warm weather, according to the American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation. Signs of a dehydrated dog include sunken eyes and dry mouth, gums and nose. A dog suspected to be dehydrated should get immediate veterinary care, because untreated dehydration can lead to organ failure and death.

According to the Canine Health Foundation, signs of a dehydrated dog include sunken eyes; dry mouth, gums and nose; and poor skin elasticity.

Ways that pet parents can monitor their dogs for dehydration include:
  • Testing the skin. Gently pull up on the skin at the back of your dog’s neck. The skin should immediately spring back to its normal position. If it fails to do so, then your dog may be dehydrated. The longer it takes for the skin to return to its normal position, the more severe the dehydration.
  • Checking the mouth for capillary refill time. Press your finger against your dog's gums until they turn white, then remove it. If the gums fail to regain color immediately, your dog could be dehydrated.

The Ruff Report is a column that appears on, a blog written by Joseph A. Reppucci, a retired editor from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mr. Reppucci worked as a reporter and editor on major daily newspapers in the Boston area for more than 30 years. He is the author of the book, The Hunt of Her Life, a heartwarming story about his once-in-a-lifetime rescue dog. Find it on


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