How does the heat index effect my dog?

Fun in the Sun with Your Canine Companion

Certainly you’ve heard the expression “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” when it comes to summer weather. Here in the Santa Barbara area, we are fortunate to experience somewhat mild summertime temps that rarely surpass 82 degrees. But that darn humidity… it’s not uncommon for it to peak at 100 percent, making an otherwise comfortable 82 degree day feel more like 95 degrees of thick, heavy, stickiness. This can make being outdoors unpleasant not only for you, but for your furry friend too.

Many pet parents like to include Rover in their summertime, outdoor activities; and Rover certainly enjoys the attention and adventure. But with heat comes the crucial task of monitoring the heat index and your pup’s reaction to it. Before taking your fur baby outside for an extended period of time, be aware of the following: the temperature, humidity percentage, shade options, and access to cool water.


noaa-heat-index-chartWhat is Heat Index?

Heat index is a measurement of the air temperature that factors in the effect of humidity, and expresses the likelihood of heat disorders when combined with strenuous activity or prolonged exposure. For example, the heat index for a 90 degree day with 100 percent humidity is 132 – meaning it feels like 132 degrees – with an extremely high risk for heat disorder. Use a heat index calculator to plan ahead when including your dog in activities. 

As warm-blooded mammals, both humans and canines must maintain their body temperature within a few degrees, despite great fluctuations in external temperatures, in order for them to function normally. The body regulates its temperature by balancing heat production with heat loss. For example, as the food we eat is metabolized, it converts to energy and produces heat; while sweating – the body’s way of cooling itself - is the main source of heat loss. But that pesky humidity in the air decreases the effectiveness of sweating, making heat loss difficult for us, and even more so for our canine companions. Dogs have sweat glands on the pads of their paws only, and panting is their main device for cooling down; this can be insufficient on a hot day, putting them at great risk for heatstroke.



So how do we enjoy our time with Rover outdoors when the heat index is high? First and foremost, it’s best to err on the side of caution. If the heat index is high, leave Rover in the comfort and coolness of his home. But if you don’t want him to miss out on your family activities, or deny him his favorite exercise of walking on the beach, ensure his safety with plenty of cool, clean water to avoid dehydration, and an identified shady spot for resting. As important, know the warning signs of heat disorder: excessive panting or difficulty breathing; increased heart and respiratory rate; thick saliva; weakness; and possible collapse. If his body temperature rises above 104 degrees (normal ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees), there is also a risk for bloody diarrhea, seizures and vomiting. If your pup experiences any of these symptoms, remove him from the heat immediately, reduce his movements and allow him to drink cool water. Even if he responds well, it is imperative that he sees a vet, as internal organ damage can be a side effect of excessive heat.

Summertime can mean tons of fun for you and your canine companion. Keep it that way by ensuring the heat index won’t be the cause of a dangerous outcome for either of you. 


Infographic Courtesy of Murdoch University
Infographic Credit: Metropolitan Veterinary Center
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