Dogs in Summer

Family Health Diary

Auckland has recently had some hot days – in fact all of NZ has – it’s just that I happen to live in Auckland, which pre-December had its usual four seasons in one day thing going on. Central Otago’s been cooking for a while. We’re just on catch up.

Since the calendar turned over into the twelfth month it’s as if the planet went “right you are New Zealand, it’s your turn for summer”. I’m suddenly walking out the door in sleeveless tops with no cardi, and thinking I should be brave enough to ditch long pants in favour of something shorter. I’ve even dug out the odd dress!

I’ve also noticed the effect of the lift in temperature on my woofer, perhaps magnified by her age. Our dog has recently turned ten, and it’s like that too has been a singular reason to flick a switch.  On cue, she was slower to get up from her bed and limping a little after a run. Arthritis on the way it seems… but it’s manageable with medication and trying to keep the exercise at a leisurely older lady pace (which suits this older lady!). Her brain however is still in puppy mode and she would probably kill herself running after a ball rather than read her own body’s signals to stop, so it’s a matter of me stopping things before her little doggie self gets round to seeing that’s sensible.

With the increased heat in the past few days though, she’s operating at an even lower activity level. A quick comment from a fellow dog walker at the off-lead dog park, confirmed their dog too was feeling the heat.  As I watched a myriad of dogs all bottie -sniff and wee on anything and everything, I recalled a summer day many years ago with the previous dog, where she too had trouble with the off switch and collapsed on a hot day. She had to be carried to the car, panting and dribbling. It was heat stroke and it took her quite a while to come right at home. Scary stuff.

Which brings me to the take-home message as such about the summer heat and dogs. DON’T LEAVE THEM IN A CAR! I was pleased to see the SPCA have some good info on it on their site aptly titled ‘Dogs die in hot cars’.

The numbers tell the story. While it’s tempting to think that being in the shade with the windows down will be ok, on a hot day the inside of your car can reach 39 degrees in just 10 minutes. In 30 mins it will rise to a deadly 49.

A dog’s normal body temp is 38.5 and they can only stand a higher temp for a short time before irreversible damage is done, leading to brain damage and even death. Given they don’t sweat like us humans do, and panting is the only way to cool themselves, if they’re breathing in hot air, it’s nigh on impossible to cool down.

Heat stroke in a dog looks like this:

  • Heavy panting
  • Profuse salivation
  • Extremely red gums and tongue
  • Lack of co-ordination
  • Vomiting/diarrhoea
  • Loss of consciousness

And the SPCA suggest this if you find yourself administering first aid:

  • Cool with water or other liquids (room temperature liquids are preferable as ice cold liquids can bring on shock or hypothermia).
  • Wet the skin thoroughly, not just the coat. Focus on the belly and inside of the legs.
  • Spray or sponge the dog until their body temperature is lowered.
  • When the dog is cooling down and responding, gently dry the body.
  • If the dog is conscious give them small amounts of water.
  • Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

And of course, if you find a dog in a hot car they suggest you call the police or the SPCA straight away. I personally would also be trying to open the door, and be walking round the local shops or wherever at the same time calling at the top of my voice to see if anyone knew who owned the car to come open it. I have no shame in that. Don’t get me started on kids left in cars … ah that’s another whole thing. Any living thing that is incapable of helping themselves in a locked car is your adult responsibility, then add some heat, and it’s a potentially toxic combo.


Written by: Jude Dobson

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