Monday, April 15, 2013

Overheating and Your Service Dog: A Serious Issue

Yesterday we went to a local Renaissance fair.  We all had lots of fun.  This is a favorite activity for all of us--my husband and I went to fairs when we were dating, and we took our children even as tiny babies.  My dog as so excited, though he restrained himself, as soon as we got there.  He recognizes some of the performers and merchants and even sat up to watch some of the shows and listen to the music.  I even (shhh!) gave him some turkey leg.

But it's already warm--upper 70s and humid, with the air still most of the day.  Though we took frequent breaks and we offered water often, my dog's panting at one point led to a much faster pant.  We removed his vest and poured water over his privates, under his front elbows, on his paws, and on his head.  His panting immediately slowed down and he relaxed and slept.  We watched some shows rather than walking--so that he took a good hour-long break.  We caught the problem within 15 seconds of it starting, but it has me thinking toward much warmer days ahead.

The sun is hot, and if you have a dog who is dark, densely curly-coated, or heavy-coated, they will overheat more easily.  Add a vest to that, and it can be a bit dangerous for your dog.  I like my dog to wear his vest--the bright color keeps people from tripping on him (honestly, he blends in with the dirt and with restaurant floors) and the patches give quick shorthand explanations.  It also signals to my dog that he's on duty, and it looks professional.  If there's an emergency or, God forbid, we got separated, people would know he's a service dog.  And it's easier for drivers to see him when we're in traffic.

Increasingly, though, I wonder if I should leave the vest off in outdoor venues when it's warm.  For a 30-minute walk in the park or a longer excursion to an air-conditioned school event, museum, or mall, we're fine.  For a half- to full-day excursion at the zoo, botanical gardens, art festival, or a Renaissance fair, no.  My dog can't let me know he's overheated, well, until he's overheated.  And a vest can be too much even for a few minutes when it's 106F outside, though all of our outings are planned carefully when it's that hot.  The vest can still be with me--parked on the wheelchair or my lap.

Here are some suggestions I've seen for keeping your dog cool in the heat, along with some of my own.  I'm not a vet, so there may be some additional suggestions I'm missing.
1. Offer drinks of cool water frequently.  (Remember his drink bottle will heat up as yours will--you might need a fresh one.)
2. Pour water on your dog's best cooling spots--tummy/genitals, elbows, and paws.  After a few minutes, I also poured some on the back of my dog's head and a little on his back--I didn't want to send him into shock by cooling him too fast.  Getting some of his curls damp allowed him to stay cool longer.
3. Rubbing alcohol on these hot spots will cool your dog quickly, but make sure he or she doesn't lick!  You can get alcohol prep pads at the drugstore--they're prepacked, light, and take up almost no room.  I have some for my wheelchair joystick.
4. Find a shady spot and/or hop from shady area to shady area.
5. Alternate walking/sitting more than you if you were not accompanied.
6.  Don't push your dog too hard.  Your dog will already be walking at least several miles at a venue like this; handling that and heat may be too much together, particularly if he's not been used to working in the heat.
7. Don't hesitate to ask for help if you need.  I'm certain the first aid people would have been glad to help if needed.  A dog that's staying overheated or who is distressed can be transported in the first aid cart with family or a friend so he doesn't have to walk, and he could be moved to a water supply where he could be more easily and completely soaked down.  Stores/restaurants can also give you water to help.
8. Be attentive and responsive, as well as patient. Your dog will keep going even when it's not a good idea. If you're a wheelchair user, your dog may wear out first when you're putting in some distance.
9. Your dog will decondition as you do if you've been sick or less active. Have others take him or her for walks as much as possible if you can't, and be sure to exercise him in your house and yard.

What we experienced was by no means an emergency.  But it required urgent attention and definitely reminded me that it's time to pay attention to warm temperatures again, and to be careful.

In good news, my son is doing a lot better.  Two years ago, we could only move from show to show, and he tired in 5 minutes and was in a lot of pain.  My husband had to give him piggyback rides.  Even a year ago, he could not walk far.  Yesterday he complained after 4 hours, though he was able to stay longer.  That was something to rejoice in!

Any further ideas for keeping your dog cool and from becoming overtired?  Please share them in comments!

7 comments: said...

I'm seeing cooling vests show up more often in catalogs aimed at working dogs and more adventurous/sporting pet owners (like Ray Allen or REI). Not sure if they'd be feasible with a service harness or not.

I'm just a pet owner, but we have to be careful with our dog because of her short muzzle so it's definitely something we keep an eye on. Lots of water adventures or heading out to the cooler mountains in the hotter parts of the summer for us.

FridaWrites said...

I haven't seen the cooling vests, but I'll look them up right away. Patches can always be added to other kinds of vests, as with raincoats and fleece wear.

The mountains are a great haven in the summer!

FridaWrites said...

Oh, Ruffwear makes one of the cooling vests! They make my dog's vest (and also do custom patterns for many service dog organizations).

This is a great idea--we live in a hot area and it will only get hotter, plus my dog is more active now that he's older.

Katja said...

You all beat me to it:

FridaWrites said...

Looks like it's a good time to stop by REI--thanks, Katja!

Karyn and Thane said...

I have always used cooling packs for my BCs once the temps are over 70 as both my boys had/ have low heat tolerance.
I can't just due without the harness since part of my dogs training is as a guide dog, but I do live a more sedentary lifestyle which helps

FridaWrites said...

Karyn, do you mean just regular ice packs placed on them? Good idea to keep those in the cooler.