May 24, 2016
Summer is coming. In Merced that can mean baking temperatures over 100 degrees. Even if the day doesn’t go over the 90’s, the black asphalt paths that line Bear Creek, Black Rascal Creek and many other favorite walking paths will heat up significantly, holding the heat well into the evening hours. People walking in rubber soled sneakers may not notice how hot the ground feels. I actually recommend that clients who take their pets out for an evening stroll bend down and place a flattened palm to the sidewalk or path – only then will they recognize what their dogs’ feet are feeling. Sometimes my hand has burned at 9 o’clock at night! If at all possible, consider early morning walks with your dog – they can be quite refreshing and you might take in an egret or hawk flying overhead.
Dogs are digitigrade (love words!), meaning they stand and bear their weight on their toes, not a sole or heel like a person. Each toe is covered by a protective pad of keratin, a horned callus that protects them from injury. Inside that is thick fatty tissue, a good shock absorber. This pad is soft in young puppies, thickening and hardening with the use they get from exercise and exposure to different terrain. A dog that has sat on the couch all summer will have tender feet if suddenly expected to go game hunting for miles in the fall. That bicycle ride you took, with your dog running gamely behind? Don’t be surprised if he or she comes up lame the next day, bare patches of pad rubbed away to expose bleeding sores. This goes way beyond blisters and will take weeks to heal, as the lost tissue can’t be sewn back on, but must slowly granulate in from the sides of the wound. Walking on soft grass is about all those dogs can bear to do for some time. Don’t take your dog’s feet or athleticism for granted – they need regular, planned exercise for peak performance and health. This is your chance to shine as a Personal Trainer! Don’t blow it!
I would like to believe everyone knows not to leave a dog in a car in a parking lot during our summers. Forget cracking the windows. A CRACKED WINDOW WILL NOT PREVENT HEAT BUILD UP IN THE CAR. It has been estimated that even on a day when the outdoors temperature is in the mid-70’s, that the interior of a car can rise to over 100 degrees or higher in less than 30 minutes. Seventy degrees? Can you imagine how quickly that temperature spikes in our area on a real summer day? One estimate I read stated that on a 90 degree day the inside of a car could reach 110 degrees in less than 10 minutes! The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) posts some interesting and horrible facts from several studies on Pets in Vehicles. The car acts like a greenhouse, with the air unable to circulate or get back out through the windows. The pet cannot breathe in the overheated air and dies from heatstroke. The dogs core (inside) body temperature may go over 104 degrees. The highest temperature I ever recorded in the stomach of a dog that had died from heatstroke was 110 degrees – our thermometer didn’t register any higher. It was too hot to keep my gloved hand inside to perform the necropsy. (The word “autopsy” is reserved for post-mortem examinations of humans or “self”. An autopsy is an examination done to determine the cause of death. In animals we most commonly use the word necropsy.). These are very sad moments, indeed. California does have laws restricting leaving pets confined inside a car under conditions that endanger the pet’s life. Please, leave your pet at home while you run errands. Here in the Valley make sure your outdoor kennels are not all concrete, baking in the sun. Shade cloth is not enough protection, either. Mature trees, watered and shaded grass, even outdoor misters should all be considered for your dog’s health and comfort during the summer days when they are outdoors. As we see each summer, it is a matter of life or death.
Christine B. McFadden, DVM