They don't call them the "dog days" of summer for nothing. The mercury soars to 90 degrees on an average August day in Baltimore, with high humidity making the heat even more oppressive. Sweltering temperatures, however, are not enough to keep many pet owners from taking their pets to area dog parks, trails and beaches, or along on family trips.
If sunburn and sweat stains aren't deterring you from braving the summer sun's rays, though, concern for your pet's health should. Dr. John Trujillo of the Light St. Animal Hospital in Baltimore says that when temperatures reach the 90s, "Going on long walks with your pet is dangerous for you and your dog."
He doesn't see too many cases of pet heat exhaustion at his practice, but "one case is one too many. Many of the safety tips are just common sense." Exercise is necessary for a pet's health, but it's often best to limit long walks to cool early morning or evening hours.
Some of the most common signs of overheating in pets are excessive panting, pacing, vomiting, a lack of responsiveness and even collapsing. "If your dog's body temperature gets to 102 degrees, they are in danger," he says. (A dog's normal body temperature is about 100.5 degrees.)
Dogs are also less equipped than humans to handle humidity. Dr. William Fortune, professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, says that high humidity slows down a dog's cooling process. "They only have sweat glands on the pads of their feet and on their nose, which are inadequate for cooling during hot and humid days."
Panting -- a dog's primary tool for relieving heat -- is less effective for short-nosed and overweight dogs who can't pant as efficiently. Owners of such pets need to be particularly vigilant.
Dogs who have cardiovascular or respiratory problems, puppies, senior dogs and dogs with heavy coats are also especially susceptible to heat exhaustion. Tangled or matted fur may trap heat, while a well-groomed coat can actually insulate from the heat.
Other summer hazards for dogs include greater exposure to fleas and ticks, which can carry illnesses such as Lyme disease, and to salt water, which can irritate an animal's paws and ears. Dogs with thin coats are also at risk for sunburn. Trujillo says that parvovirus, an infection most prevalent in puppies, is increasingly common during the summer.
While most people know not to leave a dog in a hot car, many don't realize that even when the temperature is mild, cars can be death traps for pets. The Humane Society of Baltimore County warns pet owners that even on a 75-degree day with car windows partially open, temperatures inside the vehicle can climb to 120 degrees. It's against the law to leave an animal unattended in a vehicle in a manner that endangers its health or safety.
All this doesn't mean dogs need to miss out on summer fun.
Dog lover Sandy More of Perry Hall keeps a child's wading pool in her back yard so her spunky 2-year-old Border collie, Alexis, can keep her company while she gardens. "She'll run around for a while, but when she gets hot, she jumps right in her own little pool to cool off."
Annapolis resident Luke Mays' two dogs Ticla -- a 10-month old Rottweiler -- and Betsy -- a 2-year-old black Lab -- have too much energy to be cooped up indoors all day. After a long game of fetch or Frisbee, they take dips in a front-yard pond to beat the heat.
"When they come out, they're all green with pond scum, but it's worth it to keep them from overheating," says Mays, a college student and artist.
HELP YOUR POOCH HAVE IT MADE IN THE SHADE
The Humane Society of Baltimore County and Baltimore veterinarian John Trujillo recommend these 10 tips to keep your pet cool and healthy this summer.
1. Never leave your pet in the car on a summer day.
2. Limit jogs to the cooler morning hours and to shady trails.
3. Allow dogs out to go to the bathroom on hot days, but only as long as necessary.
4. Make sure dogs have plenty of cold drinking water.
5. To prevent sunburn, apply sunscreen to a dog's ears and nose before exposure to the sun.
6. Rinse dogs with a hose after exposure to salt water.
7. Monitor your pet closely for any signs of heat exhaustion, including excessive panting, pacing and vomiting, and respond quickly.
8. Should your dog become overheated and you can't take it to the vet immediately, bathe the dog in ice water and monitor the temperature rectally until it has stabilized. (A dog's average body temperature is 100.5 degrees.)
9. Vaccinate your pet for diseases such as parvovirus, and make sure it is wearing a flea and tick collar at all times.
10. If you see a pet in hot weather danger, try to get immediate help. You can reach Baltimore County Animal Control at 410-887-5961 or Baltimore City Animal Control at 410-396-4688.