by Joanne Brokaw
The sad, sad news of the two pugs that died in custody of Animal Control has been the focus of the dog community for weeks now. But as Bob Lonsberry brought up in his column this week, while it was 101 degrees in the back of the van, it was 96 degrees outside that day.
And the dogs – pugs, who are dogs with deformed snouts that leave them unable to breathe normally and hence cool themselves off - had been left out in the yard while no one was home.
So how does heat really affect your dog? Is there a difference between heat inside a car and outside in the yard? Back in July, I conducted an experiment to see how hot it really got inside of a car and then posted the results on my Rochester Dog Health Examiner page. I think the results, along with the information about how a dog cools himself off, are worth repeating here.
As you watch the temperatures rise inside the Jeep in the following photos, remember that the heat affects your dogs the same way whether they’re inside a car our outside in the heat. (And just because summer is almost over, the danger doesn’t go away.)
Dogs can’t sweat to cool themselves down, the way humans can. The only way they can cool off is to sweat through their paws or to pant. As the website Weather.com explains,
“Air moves through the nasal passages, which picks up excess heat from the body. As it is expelled through the mouth, the extra heat leaves along with it. Although this is a very efficient way to control body heat, it is severely limited in areas of high humidity or when the animal is in close quarters.”
In close quarters like a car (or even a kennel), a dog can overheat very, very quickly and in minutes can suffer brain damage or death.
But panting means taking in air as well as breathing it out. So for a dog like a pug – or other breed with a genetically shortened snout – the inability to breathe seriously hampers their abilty to cool themselves down. (That wheezing sound a pug makes is actually the dog desperately trying to breathe.)
In their book, “Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution“, Lorna and Raymond Coppinger talk at great length about the science of how dogs regulate their body temperature. They draw a couple of conclusions worth mentioning:
1) Dogs are great at storing heat but not so great at getting rid of it. The balance point between storing and getting rid of heat for a dog is 60 degrees Fahrenheit for a smooth-coated sled dog. (That balance is 70 degrees for a human, who also has the ability to sweat to cool, something dogs can’t do.) Coppinger, who races sled dogs, says, “I wouldn’t train if the ambient temperature was over 60 degrees because the dogs would be at risk.”
2) As their weight rises to over forty-five pounds, dogs have increasing problems getting rid of heat. And that’s when the dog is at rest.
3) “Since dogs don’t have sweaty, bare skins to radiate heat [the way humans do when they sweat], evaporative cooling is not an option for them. Panting hard cools the lungs and brain, but the only place a dog sweats is thorugh the pads of its feet. The pads just don’t have enough surface area to make them effective radiators.” Add to that the fact that their bodies are covered in fur, and you’ll understand why heat effects dogs much differently than humans.
And you can see why it’s not easy for a human to determine how hot a dog really is.
So here was the experiment. I set a thermometer on the dashboard of my Jeep in my driveway; we’re on the east side of Rochester, NY. At about half hour intervals, I recorded the temperature outside and how it felt to me, how much shade or sun was on the car, and then the temperature inside the car at the same time. I figured a half hour was about the time most dog owners think might be safe to leave the dog in the car while they run a quick errand.