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Heat and the City by Stacey Higdon

by Ryan on August 13, 2013

in Dogs, Health, Pet Health

Living in the Montrose, I tend to stay within the 59-Loop. This means the majority of my commuting is by bicycle or bus. I like to consider myself ecofriendly, but I also despise driving in Houston. And so that’s why I was riding my bike to work one day last July. I’m a part-time college professor at a couple of schools, so I don’t have a consistent schedule, but that day, I was at HLogoCC-Central. As I coasted to the front of the building, I heard a noise: a barking dog. Someone had left an adorable Min Pin inside of a locked car in, and, boy, was he angry, but didn’t he have every right to be? While the back window was rolled down a bit, he had no water in sight, and the inside of that car had to be well over 100 degrees. I got in touch with the HCC Police, and after explaining the situation to the responding officers, one of them asked me if there was any way to know if the dog was in mortal peril—if that were to happen, he was going to break the window. I told him one thing he could do was pay attention to the color of the dog’s tongue: bright pink or red is a huge warning sign for heat stroke.

I’ve known about this symptom for years from my vet. My five-year old dog, Fritz, had a heat-related seizure four years ago. That episode was scary for a number of reasons, but the scariest thing was that it was an uncharacteristically breezy September day—no humidity, not even eighty degrees out—the day it happened. Clearly there are dogs more sensitive to the heat than others; Fritz is, after all, a Chihuahua mix. Lower to the ground, he’s closer to the pavement and its radiant heat. But let’s not forget about the brachycephalic breeds. If you aren’t familiar with that term—these breeds are the dogs (and cats) with short, broad skulls, and “smushed-in” faces: Pugs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers—there are many more. Heat, however, is a big concern for these cute pups. Many airlines won’t even allow brachycephalic breeds to fly when the outside temperature climbs above a certain number; some airlines are even banning the breeds from flight altogether.

Dogs (and cats) don’t sweat like humans. Remember a panting dog is trying to cool off in one of the few ways she can—exchanging the warmer air in the body for cooler air outside. This is why brachycephalic breeds have such a hard time in the heat: they can’t exchange that air as efficiently. Often in the Houston heat, when it’s so hot and humid, a dog’s body temperature isn’t all that different from the temperature of the air outside, and this makes heat exhaustion and heat stroke very real concerns. In addition to panting, dogs also “sweat” through the pads of their feet; this loss of fluid can be devastating, and also contributes to dehydration. Picture this: it’s August in Houston—the heat of the day. Now think about how sweaty and thirsty you are after walking your dog outside; if you feel that drained, imagine how your pup must feel. I always carry a water bottle for Fritz when we’re out—regardless of the temperature outside: I never want to feel as helpless as I did the day in September when he had that seizure, and I know having water with me is just one small thing I can do.

Sure, Fritz has a short smooth coat, but sometimes I think he’d be happier without fur. The other day though, my husband and I saw a Mexican Hairless on our walk with Fritz. Reuben and I marveled at this, and claimed to the owner that her dog must be so comfortable in the summer.  “Not so,” she said. The pup always had to wear a shirt and sunscreen when outside to protect her skin from the sun. Panting heavily and laying down in the shade, the dog really didn’t look that happy to be outdoors. This dog had no fur, but you’d think that since dogs cool down differently than people, that it would make sense to shave double-coated dogs. Then they have protection from the sun, and they’re cooler: it’s a win-win situation, right? Well, not really. Because of the dual layers, not only does that thick coat keep dogs warm in the winter, it also keeps them cool in the summer. Shaving that beautiful coat is not doing them a favor; it’s kinder to leave it untouched. Something you can do, though, is brush the coat out frequently—if not daily. Brushing helps promote air circulation, helping to keeping these dogs cool.  If you have a dog with a single-coat, shaving is definitely an option to keep him cooler; just remember, all dogs like to be brushed!

But whatever happened to that little Min Pin? Well, his owner came sauntering back from the HCC Financial Aid office two hours later. After a stern lecture from one of the officers, she began to cry. Unfortunately, as soon as those tears started, that office tore up the citation he was going to give her, and cancelled the call he made to HSPCA to pick up the dog. She got off scot-fee, and that little dog went home. Now I don’t know that woman: perhaps she truly didn’t think about it, and thought the tiny dog would be just fine in the hot car without water or shade. After all, that’s why I’m writing this blog article: to inform all of us, and to make sure we all know just how fragile our animals can be in the heat. You could even argue that everything worked out: the dog was fine; there was no tragedy that day. Perhaps that’s even how that pet owner tried to rationalize the situation in her head. But that’s just it: there could have just as easily been a tragedy that day. As dog and cat owners, we have a duty to protect our pets, and as I’m writing this, I’m looking down at my eleven-and-a-half-pound Whiskey-eyed pup, and I know, I just know, for Fritz, I can and I will.

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