Ah, summer. Gathering my share of vegetables at Whippoorwill Farm during my lunch hour on Friday, I was feeling triumphant. My family had eaten almost all of last week’s greens in time for this week’s abundance. I had remembered to bring my reusable bags and had found a gratifyingly lush patch of beans that made my eat-local, pick-your-own task a breeze. As I strolled back to my car, gazing out over the verdant fields, I watched a few helmeted folks packing their bounty onto the backs of bicycles. Now that’s really being green, I thought, filled with a joyful appreciation of community-sponsored agriculture, of the Vineyard, of our way of life.
And then I saw him. A dog. In a car. Noooooooooooo. At noon in July, during a heat wave? Noooooo. Parked in the sun. Noooooooooo. So I guess it’s time for my more-or-less annual rant about summer care of pets.
I don’t care how fast you pick your beans. It is too hot for any animal to be left in the car, even with the windows open, unless you’re willing to leave the engine running and the AC on, in which case everyone walking past you at the farm will comment on your waste of fossil fuels. C’mon folks. Just leave Bingo, the boxer, at home.
I know you say you’re only going to be a minute. Trust me, it doesn’t take long for that car to become a serious sauna. If you don’t believe me, go put on a fur coat, park the car in the sun, and lie down on the back seat for five minutes. Oh, and while you’re at it, don’t sweat. Remember dogs do not perspire. The only way they have to cool themselves is to pant. Overweight dogs, those with heavy coats, and pug-faced breeds like boxers, Pekingese, bulldogs, and pugs are particularly at risk for heat stroke, as are older dogs and those with chronic cardiac problems, lung disease, or laryngeal paralysis. But even a young dog can succumb quickly in this kind of weather.
Now don’t take offense. I don’t want to call anyone — well — stupid, but I ask you, what would you call the family who had their fourteen-year-old dog run behind them when they bicycled several miles in the midday heat? That old-timer predictably collapsed and was lucky to survive. How ’bout the owner that takes her fat, old Samoyed to the beach for the entire day? Did she miss the part about Samoyeds being Northern breed dogs? You know, snow? Sleds? The Iditarod? I will now take a deep breath and rein in my sarcasm.
The first signs of heat stroke in the dog are panting and drooling. Since Bingo may pant and drool normally, it’s not hard to overlook the onset of hyperthermia, which may rapidly progress to more severe consequences. As the internal body temperature rises, Bingo’s heart starts to beat very fast. He may develop cardiac arrhythmias and start having trouble breathing. Bloody vomiting and diarrhea may occur, at which point even the least observant owner knows that something is wrong. Left untreated, Bingo will finally exhibit some combination of shock, seizures, coma, respiratory arrest, and death.
If you think Bingo is overheating, don’t wait. Spray him down with cool water immediately. If he doesn’t actually have heat stroke, you won’t do any harm. If he does, you may be saving his life. It’s not enough to just wet his fur, you have to make sure you really soak him down to the skin, especially if he’s a dog with a heavy coat, like a chow or an Akita. Keep that cool water coming. Concentrate on the areas of his body with the least fur, like his underbelly. Resist the urge to use ice or ice water. This is too cold and will actually be counterproductive, constricting the peripheral blood vessels and reducing the release of heat from inside his body. Just keep wetting him down with that hose. If possible, put a fan on him too. Then call your veterinarian. Dogs with severe heat stroke are at risk for organ damage, particularly kidney failure, swelling of the brain, and clotting disorders. Intravenous fluids and other medications may be warranted for the best prognosis.
Of course, the ideal thing is to avoid putting Bingo in dangerous situations in the first place. Maybe I’m a bit of an overprotective Jewish mother (I can hear my children saying “Duh” in the background). Or maybe I’ve just seen too many cases of heat stroke first hand over the years. The faces of the family watching their beloved Labrador retriever, prostrate on the ground, struggling to breathe, after that bike ride. The panicked call from the people who came out of the grocery store to find their pup seizuring in the car. The wailing child throwing himself on the body of his best friend, a spaniel that died on my exam table before I could help her, the victim of a day at the beach in the blazing sun.
This summer seems particularly treacherous. Maybe it’s global warming. Maybe it’s karma. Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw. But the Island has faced its share of hard events and tragedies in July. Let’s make August a safe, healthy, happy month for everyone. For year-rounders and for summer folk. At the beach, on the roads, and at the farm. Do me a favor. Do yourself a favor. When in doubt, leave Bingo home. Heat stroke is a potentially fatal, and completely preventable, condition. It’s up to you.