Beat the Heat Before it Beats Us and Our Animals


By Dr. Michael W. Fox

Climate change deniers cannot dismiss the current heat dome over western states and the escalating incidence of heat waves of increasing intensity and duration across the world, putting us and wild and domesticated animals at risk. Heat stress can be fatal.

I watch the daily news on TV every day and am shocked that here in the U.S., as in Europe and many other countries, that I see so few people wearing cooling wet bandannas, and so many dogs being walked and even jogged alongside a runner or bicyclist, on hot pavements that could burn their feet and cause heat stress and stroke. Consider outfitting them with insulating booties.

There are enough warnings about leaving dogs as well as little children in vehicles in hot weather, one police dog recently dying when the air conditioning in the squad car went off. On a 90-degree day, temperatures inside a car can reach 110 degrees in 10 minutes—and a fatal 130 degrees in 30 minutes.

Dogs pant and we sweat to keep cool, losing body water in the process. Dogs may be less at risk from kidney damage than humans because we also lose minerals in sweat which need to be replaced with electrolytes according to a recent study of farm workers. Always take water with an added pinch of salt and sugar for your dog or ideally, a diluted mixture of plain Pedialyte electrolyte solution for yourself and your dog when out in hot weather for any duration of time.

Walk on grass or shaded wooded trails-sand, like cement pavements. can burn, and dogs can also get sunburn. Cooling vests and bandannas have helped save farm workers’ lives. (Chicas R, Et al. Cooling Interventions Among Agricultural Workers: A Pilot Study. Workplace Health Saf. 2021 Jul;69(7):315-322. ). Similar cooling gear are available for dogs and should be provided for all working dogs. Wrapping crushed ice in a bandanna and putting one around the dog’s neck and another around yourself can increase comfort, cooling the blood going to and from the brain and to the rest of the body.

Dogs compromised by overheating can become disoriented, feverish, pant laboriously, drool, vomit, have seizures, develop bright red, gray, purple, or bluish gums indicating dehydration and possible circulatory collapse. Such signs call for veterinary emergency services and if not close by, immediate application of water over head, neck, ears, body, and paws. Lower their body temperature by wetting them thoroughly with cool water. Do not use ice- cold water because cooling too quickly can be just as dangerous as heat exhaustion. For very small dogs or puppies, use lukewarm water instead of cool. Allow them to dry-off beside a small floor fan.

Dogs with flat faces like French bulldogs and Pugs are especially susceptible to heat exhaustion because they cannot pant as efficiently, along with overweight dogs and those with dark colored fur and heart conditions. A cooling floor fan at home, if air conditioning is not available, and a cold floor to lie on, can help over-heated dogs cool down, along with plenty of water to drink.