An incident today reminded me that many well-intentioned people do not realize that dogs are far more susceptible to heat stroke and dehydration than we are. I’m sharing this cautionary tale not to single out the dog owner involved, but to raise awareness that the dog days of summer pose serious health risks to our canine companions.
First, before I make an example of someone else’s careless behavior, I confess to once being equally careless myself. Back in the mid-1980s my (now ex-) husband and I were visiting his parents in Washington, DC. They had a young golden retriever, Abigail, who loved to go running with us. It was a hot and humid afternoon, but we didn’t think twice about bringing Abby along as we set off on our usual two-mile run through the wooded trails of nearby Battery Kemble Park. Off-leash and well-conditioned, she probably ran twice the distance we did, chasing squirrels and tracking scents up and down the hilly terrain, but she kept up with us and never stopped to rest. Walking the last few hundred yards to cool down, we noticed with alarm that Abby was panting very heavily and seemed unsteady on her feet. Fortunately, my father-in-law was out in his yard when we got home and had the presence of mind to immediately cool poor Abby down with the garden hose. She bounced back after a long cold soaking, but we got a well-deserved scolding our carelessness, and the episode went down in family lore as the day we almost killed the dog.
Almost three decades later, I’ve given up jogging in favor of more gentle exercise at a local gym. Around noon today, I was midway through my workout, when one of the gym employees walked by asking if anyone had left a dog tied up outside. It was oppressively hot and humid out — with creeping climate change, these days Boston feels more and more swampy, like I remember Washington always was in the summer — and the employee was worried because the dog seemed to be in distress. She eventually located the dog’s owner, a middle-aged woman who had been on a stairmaster long enough to work up a substantial sweat. Out of the corner of my eye I watched the two of them discuss the dog for several minutes, while the woman kept up her vigorous stair-stepping. Eventually the employee walked away, and the woman continued her workout.
Curiosity got the better of me, so I paused my lackluster elliptical routine (I always get bored well before I manage to break a sweat) to find out what was going on with the dog. The employee, who told me she used to work as a vet tech and recognized the signs of heat stroke in dogs, had brought the dog inside with a bowl of water. I could hear him panting rapidly from across the room, as if he couldn’t catch his breath. Half an hour later, the dog, a large, short-haired mixed breed with a graying muzzle, was still panting, though not as hard, when his owner finally wrapped up her workout. Turns out she had walked her dog to the gym, and now belatedly realizing his heat distress, she left him in the air- conditioned gym while she walked home to get her car. The employee told me she had urged the woman to take the dog to the vet to rule out dehydration or other more serious complications. I hope he bounces back, as Abby did, and that the woman learns from the experience, as I did, to take greater care with her dog when it’s so hot out.
Please take a moment to read about the signs and risks of heat stroke in dogs on PetMD.