Protecting Against Heat Stroke

by Jo Ann White

Be aware that heat, particularly when coupled with physical exertion or stress, poses a serious danger to your pet. Unlike human beings, dogs do not have sweat glands all over their bodies. Instead, they have such glands only around their noses and on the pads of the feet. They also cool themselves by panting. However, dogs are much less efficient than humans at lowering their body temperatures by evaporation, especially on days when the temperature reaches 90 degrees or above and the humidity is 85 percent or more. This is particularly true of short-faced, heavily coated dogs like the Shih Tzu.

For this reason, you need to take sensible precautions in hot weather. Take your dog on brief walks early in the morning and in the evening, rather than at midday. Be especially careful about exercising your dog outside when the temperature and humidity are high, as exercise increases the oxygen demands of the muscles. Excitement also makes breathing more difficult.

NEVER leave your dog in a parked car in warm weather—the temperature in a closed car can rise to deadly levels in a matter of minutes, even when the windows are partially open. Be sure your Shih Tzu has cool fresh water available at all times. When you travel, take along ice packs to help keep your pet cool, be sure there is good air circulation around your dog’s crate, and use a light-colored towel to provide shade. When transporting your pet long distances, acclimate it gradually to higher temperatures. If you groom your Shih Tzu yourself, keep the temperature setting on your drier cooler than usual in warm weather, and never leave your dog unattended when it is being dried with a cage drier. Fans and air conditioning to circulate and cool indoor air help your dog transfer heat from its body to the environment. It is also a good idea in warm climates to install an alarm that dials your cell phone if your air conditioning fails.

Watch for excessive panting, particularly when coupled with a wide-eyed, panicked expression and/or thickened saliva, a deep red colored tongue, vomiting, or diarrhea. All of these could be signs of heat stroke. In a vicious cycle, the more the dog exerts itself struggling to cool down, the more its internal temperature rises. Elderly or ill dogs, or dogs with compromised breathing, are particularly susceptible to heat stroke. Heat stroke is am emergency requiring prompt veterinary attention. Until you reach your veterinarian or an emergency clinic, apply cool compresses (not ice) to the head, neck, armpits, and groin areas to try to reduce his body temperature.

If you are aware and proactive, you can help your Shih Tzu deal with the “dog days” of summer.