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Pet Docs: Lowcountry heat, humidity dangerous to dogs

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Take it easy on Fido in heat of summer (copy)

Instead of running your dog ragged while you bike, summer may just be a better time to let her hitch a ride. File

Q: Please address the issue of jogging or riding a bike alongside one’s dog and how dangerous it is especially this time of year with the heat and humidity. I live in Mount Pleasant and see people doing it all the time. If you say anything to the owners, most are not receptive. So maybe they would listen to you.

A: Thank you for reminding us to address this important issue. We take it for granted that people realize the heat and humidity of our Lowcountry summers can be dangerous to dogs. Maybe they are new to the area or pet ownership. Regardless, this point cannot be stressed enough.

In our ER hospitals, we weekly see dogs present for heat-related issues including dogs left in a locked car, walked on hot pavement (resulting in burned pads) or exercised during the hottest parts of the day. I (Perry Jameson) can remember examples over the past 30 years that still affect me today.

If you lived here when the Ravenel Bridge opened, you will recall how so many people started using it to run, walk and cycle for exercise. Unfortunately around this time, a young man took his Rottweiler running over the bridge in the middle of a July day. Upon reaching the top, his dog would go no further. He picked this 100-pound dog up and ran back to his car and then raced to our Mount Pleasant ER. Upon arrival, the dog was still conscious but panting heavily with a temperature of 107 degrees. With heroic efforts and following days of hospitalization, he went home.

Dogs do not thermoregulate as well as humans. We perspire over our entire bodies. The evaporation of this liquid over the large surface areas of our skin is an efficient cooling system. Dogs do not thermoregulate this way. They pant, which results in evaporation of fluid from their respiratory tracts. This is a much smaller surface area than our skin so not as effective at cooling them down. This is why they will overheat quickly at times and with exertion.

We do not recommend running with your dog this time of year. Even in the coolest parts of the day, it is hard for them to maintain their body temperature in our humid environment. Take a break over the summer and wait for fall, winter and spring.

When you walk your dog, do this in the morning and evening when the temperatures are at their lowest. Not only is the air temperature cooler but the asphalt is also. During an 80-degree day, the pavement can reach temperatures high enough to burn your dog's foot pads.

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Brachycephalic breeds have an even decreased ability to thermoregulate due to their facial conformation. Even in conditions other dogs will tolerate, these dogs, such as bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers, can develop heat stroke.

I can still remember another heat-related event that occurred at the beginning of my career when still at our original Remount Road emergency room. A man had raced from downtown with his two dogs. He was single, and his dogs were his entire family and were always with him. He had gone to pick up a friend downtown and left them in the car with the windows slightly open. He figured the five minutes in the car would be OK. It was August and the five minutes turned into 15. By the time he returned, they were panting heavily and unconscious.

Upon his arrival to us, we found that they both had temperatures greater than the thermometer could read, which is 108 degrees. Every organ is damaged when temperatures are this high. They were unresponsive from brain injury, developed bloody diarrhea from intestinal injury, their liver and kidneys failed. Needless to say, I could not save them.

He was devastated and racked with guilt. Nothing he did was intentional, but his oversight led to the death of two family members. I remember how he would call every few weeks just to talk as he dealt with his grief.

When the outside temperature reaches 90 degrees, the inside of a car can reach greater than 160 degrees in 10 minutes. This is high enough to quickly raise a dog's body temperature to dangerous levels. If the dogs are excited, jumping and barking, their temperatures will even rise faster.

If you see a dog in a car, get the make, model, color and license plate number and get someone to try and find the pet’s parent. You also can call the police or animal control for help. The dog needs to be removed sooner, rather than later. According to our local laws, this should be done by authorized personnel only. 

Thank you for reminding us to address this important issue, as these life-threatening conditions are always preventable.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to petdocs@postandcourier.com.

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