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Dog Days dangers: Man's best friend needs care during summer's hottest weather

| Monday, June 30, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Michael McParlane illustration
Michael McParlane illustration

The impending arrival of America's grandest holiday also ushers in a season within a season that many have no interest in celebrating: The Dog Days of Summer.

The days are couched in myth, mystery, legend and very real heat and humidity. How long it plans to hang around isn't set in stone, though July 3 to Aug. 11 is often considered the usual length of time.

The dates of Dog Days coincide with the rising of the dog star, Sirius. It is high in the sky during summer days.

“Summer does seem to kick into high gear during the ‘dog days,' ” says Stephen Cropper, WPXI-TV's chief meteorologist. “We generally qualify 90-degree temps as ‘hot,' and historically the July-August time frame is when we hit those numbers.”

The “Bermuda High,” a semi-permanent, subtropical area of high pressure in the North Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast of North America, is the primary reason for the heat and humidity of summer, he says.

“It works like a heat pump cranking up the temps,” Cropper says. “And it also works like a linebacker blocking heat-relief storms from making it south and east from Canada.”

Whatever the reason for the heat and humidity of Dog Days, it is a time that man's best friend might struggle. Care needs to be taken when heat endangers your dog's safety.

On this matter, suggests Cropper, whose family just brought Lola, a 4-month-old Portuguese water dog into their home, “common sense is always a good rule of thumb.”

“We need to remember that summertime isn't all fun and games for our pets. There are very real dangers that present during these warmer months, including heat stroke, dehydration and even sunburns,” says author and veterinarian Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA Animal Hospital in New York City.

The ASPCA, American Veterinary Medical Association, Animal Rescue League, Pittsburgh, and others offer these suggestions:

Leave your pet at home

Never leave animals alone in a parked car. Potentially fatal heatstroke can develop.

On an 85-degree day, it takes only 10 minutes for the inside of your car to reach 102 degrees, even when the windows have been left open an inch or two. Within 30 minutes, a car's interior can reach 120 degrees. When the temperature outside is a pleasant 70, the inside of your vehicle may be as much as 20 degrees hotter. Shade offers little protection on a hot day and moves with the sun.

Know the signs of heat stroke

If you think your dog has heat stroke, remove your pet from the heat, cover with cool, damp towels, give him or her small amounts (better for hydration) of water to drink and contact the vet immediately.

The symptoms of overheating in pets include:

• Excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit, body temperature over 104 degrees.

• Animals with flat faces, such as pugs, boxers and bulldogs, are more susceptible to heat stroke because they cannot pant as effectively and should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.

High-rise syndrome

Warmer weather brings an increase in this syndrome, which occurs when pets fall out of windows or doors and are seriously or fatally injured. Keep all unscreened windows or doors closed and adjustable screens tightly secured.

Don't burn

• Dogs can get sunburned, just like people, especially dogs with finer coats or shorter, lighter, hair. Your veterinarian can recommend a good sunscreen.

• Trim longer hair on your dog, but never shave your pet. The layers of dogs' coats protect them from overheating, sunburn and possible skin cancer.

• Be aware of the surfaces on which you are walking. Dogs are essentially going barefoot and can burn their paw pads. If you can't stand outside in your bare feet, neither can a dog.

Water, water everywhere

Always have water with you so your dog has something to drink and can get a quick, cold shower to cool off. Pets can get dehydrated quickly, so give them plenty of fresh, clean water when it is hot outdoors.

•Aiming to please

Dogs aim to please, so they are going to try to keep up with us, whether we are playing outside, going for a jog or just a walk. Some dogs prefer to hang out in the house with the AC on.

They can't cool themselves as easily as we can. They can easily overexert in hot temperatures trying to be our exercise companions. They also can suffer from poor air quality on ozone-action days. Dogs can't directly tell us they're overheating, so we need to take steps to prevent it and be aware of danger signs.

Avoid going outside with your dog on extremely hot days. If going out is unavoidable, wait until after the peak sun and heat hours of noon to 3 p.m. Try very short walks early in the morning and late in the evening

Make a Pup-Sickle

Line a red Solo cup or cupcake tin with peanut butter. Pour in broth. Add Cheerios and a sardine, which is good for the skin and has a stinky aroma dogs really like. Place a dog biscuit in the mixture as the handle. Freeze.

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or

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