Weather can be unpredictable: Even with modern technology, forecasters are still making the wrong predictions for the weather — and that can be a real issue when you’re traveling with dogs. Even the most diligent owners can accidentally put their pets’ health and lives at risk if they suddenly encounter unexpectedly cold or hot temperatures that they weren’t prepared to deal with.
Traveling in some regions can also be tricky. Take the state of Colorado, for instance. In October 2019, it was 82 degrees Fahrenheit (27.8°C) one day in the Boulder and Denver regions, then snowed heavily the next day. During that short time, if you were out hiking and camping with your dog, you could have inadvertently exposed the canine to overheating on the first day, and then to dangerously cold weather the next.
Although this scenario is an extreme example, it does point out the importance of knowing the signs that your pet may be too hot or too cold, as well as the ways you can help your pet recover from these dangerous weather-related health issues.
- Overheating and the risk of heat stroke
- Signs your dog is overheating:
- What to do if your dog is overheating:
- Tips for prevention:
- Cold weather and hypothermia
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Overheating and the risk of heat stroke
When humans get hot, their bodies sweat, and as that sweat evaporates, it transfers heat away from the body — it’s a very effective cooling system. Dogs, on the other hand, rely on panting to cool their bodies down. As a dog pants, warm moisture evaporates from their tongues, nasal passages, mouth and lungs, and cooler air is circulated through the body. Unfortunately, it’s not always an efficient way for canines to cool themselves down.
Signs your dog is overheating:
- Heavy panting
- Rapid breathing
- Mouth appearing grayish to purple, with dry or sticky gums
- Loss of consciousness
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
When a canine’s temperature is above 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39°C), it is considered hyperthermic. A temperature above 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41°C) is associated with heat stroke
What to do if your dog is overheating:
- Move your pet to a cool place.
- If possible, use cool (not cold) water to wet your dog down to the skin. Pay particular attention to the head, stomach and feet.
- Give your dog cool water to drink.
- If available, use a fan to cool your dog down. If one is not available, try fanning your dog by hand.
- Take your canine to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Your dog may need intravenous fluids or oxygen therapy.
Tips for prevention:
When it comes to overheating and dogs, it’s not only about the outside temperature. Other factors that can increase a dog’s risk of developing hyperthermia include:
- High humidity: When the humidity is high, dogs have a difficult time cooling their bodies down by panting.
- Leaving a dog in a parked car on a warm day: Even with the windows down, vehicles can heat up to dangerous levels quickly. For example, the interior of an automobile on a relatively mild 70-degree (21°C) day can hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7°C) after just 20 minutes, according to the AKC (American Kennel Club).
You also need to be careful about exercising your dog on warm to hot days. Because canines are eager to please their owners, they may continue running or exercising even as they’re overheating.
Additionally, certain traits or characteristics can make a dog more susceptible to hyperthermia. These include but are not limited to:
- Flat-faced canines, such as Pugs and French Bulldogs: These flat-faced dogs have a harder time cooling their bodies down by panting.
- Dogs with thick and/or double coats: Examples include Siberian Huskies and Chows.
- Slender canines with thin coats, such as Greyhounds: These dogs have very little insulation to protect them from the heat.
Cold weather and hypothermia
It’s not just hot weather that can be dangerous for your dog. In cold temperatures, dogs can develop hypothermia or get frostbite.
Symptoms of hypothermia:
- Lethargy and sluggishness
- Decreased mental alertness
- Irregular breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Curling up if lying down; hunching if standing
- A slow and irregular heart rate
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty walking
- Blue-colored gums
Symptoms of frostbite:
- Pale blue or gray skin that may be cold and hard to the touch
- Pain and swelling in the affected area
- Blackened or dead skin
What to do if your dog has hypothermia
If you suspect your dog is suffering with hypothermia, you should:
- Get your dog out of the cold as soon as possible.
- Dry your pet’s fur if it’s wet or damp.
- Bundle your dog in blankets or towels. If possible, warm the towels or blankets up in a clothes dryer first.
- For moderate hypothermia, you may also need to use hot water bottles. Do not place them directly against your pet’s body.
- Give your dog some warm liquids, if possible.
Check your dog’s body temperature every 15 minutes. If it is above 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35°C), you may be able to treat your canine at home with the above methods until its body temperature reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37°C). If your pet’s temperature is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35°C), take your dog to the veterinarian immediately. In severe cases, dogs may need warm IV fluids administered by a veterinarian.
The following are considered the different levels of hypothermia:
- Mild: 90 to 99 degrees (32.2-37°C)
- Moderate: 82 to 90 degrees (27.7-32.2°C)
- Severe: Less than 82 degrees (27.7°C)
Tips for preventing hypothermia
Even when temperatures start to dip down towards freezing, most dogs are fine with being outdoors for short periods of time. Some smaller dogs with thin coats, senior pets and puppies may require a sweater.
Once temps go below freezing, you should limit your canine’s time outdoors. It’s also important not to leave your dog in a parked car on very cold days.
In addition, you need to be aware of your dog’s specific issues when it comes to cold weather. For instance, senior dogs and puppies will be more susceptible to hypothermia. Certain diseases can also cause a dog to be more sensitive to the cold, and some small dogs that have thin coats, such as Chihuahuas and Italian Greyhounds, tend to get cold faster than other breeds.
Wet conditions can also increase your dog’s chances of developing hypothermia. For example, dogs that have been swimming in cold water sitting in a cold rain may start showing signs of hypothermia even on a relatively mild day.
If you have to take a dog out on a very cold day, consider outfitting it in a coat as well as booties to protect against the elements.
Nature is beautiful, but it can also be dangerous. If you and your canine are out and about in hot or cold weather, make sure to keep an eye on your faithful companion to ensure that it won’t be adversely affected by the elements.
Author bio: Lizz Caputo is Content Strategist at Figo Pet Insurance — provider of the industry’s best pet insurance plans. She is an animal enthusiast and owner of a rescued senior American bully.
Featured header image: Courtesy of Kathryn Archibald on Pexels