I walk my dog a couple of miles through the streets of the South Loop every weeknight.
This past Friday, we started out an hour earlier than we normally walk, and it had strong repercussions with my baby. He was dragging behind me; he was walking, not trotting happily as he normally does; and he even stopped to lie down at two separate points in the walk.
The heat was just too much for him.
A friend’s son once lost his dog to heat stroke. A beautiful, big, strong, healthy, two-year-old American bulldog, Rocco was poor Christian’s first dog, and they were the best of friends. Rocco lived at Chris’ dad’s house, and Chris was with his mom when it happened. He was absolutely devastated when he got the call.
So what is heat stroke? Heat stroke is a very common and preventable illness, according to the vets at Drs. Fosters and Smith (www.peteducation.com).
How does it happen? Dogs who are left outside in the peak hours of Chicago summer heat are especially susceptible. Remember that dogs do not sweat. They have a few glands in their feet and in their mouths that secrete fluids that are intended to cool the dog slightly, but those mechanisms are not nearly as sophisticated or effective as the human system.
What are signs to look for? Dogs who are in jeopardy will slow their walk, will pant more loudly and more desperately, will actually stop and refuse to walk at certain points, and will eventually collapse.
How can it be prevented? My vet’s best advice is to walk early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the sun and heat are less severe. Limit their stride and pace to a level that seems comfortable for them, and don’t push them past their limits. They will tell you when it is too much and you need to listen.
There are some products on the market that you can buy for walks in the summer heat. There are vests and bandanas and collars that you can soak in water, and they are supposed to cool the dog’s body temperature without seeping that water onto the dog’s coat. They seem heavy and cumbersome to me, so I have not bought one. If you have tried them, drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.
Water is another issue about which I have received considerable amounts of conflicting data. Some sources say that you should carry a bottle of water with you on long walks and high heat, for the drinking of water can help to cool the dog’s core. Remember, again, that dogs do not sweat as we do, so they will not dehydrate as we could from sweating profusely. They do not need to replenish water they have not perspired out.
Also, and this is the scary part, I know of two cases where large breed dogs died of bloat from drinking too much water during exercise. This is another area of conflicting data, as most web information about bloat talks only about gas and digestive issues and feeding methods in relation to bloat. However, two dogs that we knew personally in New Jersey died sudden and painful deaths from drinking water at the dog park.
In these two cases, the dogs drank a belly-full of water and ran off to play with their friends. When the belly was full and the water in the belly was sloshing around, the stomach flipped. The flipped stomach was subsequently pinched off on either side, preventing digestion and blood flow. Both dogs died in a matter of hours after running and playing with friends at the dog park, and both causes of death were diagnosed as bloat. Because that scares the bejeezes out of me, I do not ever bring water with us on our walks. I am certain that a little sip of water here and there along the way is ok, as long as your dog does not fill his or her belly with water.
So what is bloat? Bloat is a medical condition where the stomach fills with air (or water) and flips itself over.
How does it happen? According to the vets at Drs. Foster and Smith (www.peteducation.com), bloat happens most frequently when dogs eat too quickly, ingest too much air, or eat foods that make too much gas in the stomach, and the very full and distended stomach flips itself over during some sort of exertion.
What are signs to look for? Signs of bloat are significant periods of gagging and unsuccessful attempts to vomit, a distended or swollen abdomen, and refusal of food or water.
How can it be prevented? Monitor your dog’s eating. If he or she is a very fast eater, consider one of those bowls that have the things in the center that limit access to the food to slow the dog’s ingestion of the food. If your dog does not eat at a fast pace but still seems to ingest a lot of air (if there is a lot of burping after a meal), I have read that elevated feeders can minimize that (of course there are also sites that say the elevated feeders contribute to it, as they make speedier access to the food). Wait a half hour after eating before engaging the dog in rigorous exercise. (This is a bubbemeiseh in humans, but it is supported by good science for dogs.)
As I said, we walk every weeknight after 8pm. We walk a couple of miles through the streets of the South Loop, and we walk at a pretty good clip. My baby is stubborn and hoggie about water. If he knows I have it, he won’t walk. He will just sit and look pretty asking politely for water until there is no more. So we water before and after the walk, and we don’t pick up pace on the walk until he has sufficiently emptied his bladder. This works for us, and my vet approves every aspect of our plan. Believe me, I have asked and verified a number of times.
Sometimes you will see just me and my baby, and sometimes you will see a whole parade of dogs and dog owners cruising along. If you see us, say hello. If you want to join us, come on along. It is great exercise for all of us, and it is a great opportunity for socialization for them and for us. What better way to get to know your neighbors and your neighborhood than by strolling along the streets and through the parks with tired dogs?
Jill Aronson is an SLDogPAC board member who lives in the South Loop with her dog Leo. ©2010 Jill Aronson. This article originally appeared at Examiner.com.