Summer’s just about arrived everywhere in the US by now, and some places (like the eastern part of Washington State and northern Idaho) are experiencing unseasonal and potentially dangerous heat indexes. Temperatures in the triple digits are hard enough to handle for humans not used to it—what about their pets?
Heatstroke and heat exhaustion can be serious issues for pets, both at home and at the groomer’s. Knowing the signs and symptoms and how to treat these dangerous conditions can save lives. June 13 was Canine Heatstroke Awareness day, and some of the best writers in the pet industry contributed articles to help educate pet owners about the problem.
What can groomers do to help prevent animals from suffering from these mostly preventable ailments? First, make sure it doesn’t happen in the grooming salon. Second, do whatever you can to help inform your customers about heat exhaustion in their dog at home.
In order to groom, we must dry the dogs we bathe. And dry them thoroughly, or risk skin problems and more. But drying involves heat, air circulation, or both – and the best results are achieved utilizing both. What to do?
Preventing problems from drying centers mostly around awareness. Every animal in the shop should be where someone can keep an eye on them at all times. Consider assigning responsibilities for watching specific areas to avoid situations in which everyone thought someone else was watching that particular dog or room. Educate staff on which dogs are most likely to suffer from heat problems; brachycephalic (short snouted), obese, thick double-coated, darker-colored, and geriatric dogs are more prone to heat exhaustion so use extra care and vigilance with them.
Make sure everyone on your staff knows the symptoms of heat exhaustion. A dog that is panting and drooling may not be doing it from simple stress. Restlessness, diarrhea, and vomiting are all things that we see in the salon, but can also be signs of heatstroke. Red gums, glazed or “popping” eyes, weakness, gasping for breath—all signs that heat is continuing to take its toll on a dog. Gums turn dark and there is no longer enough saliva to create drool when the situation is dire. Seizures, coma, and death can follow shortly.
What do you do if you suspect a dog is suffering from the heat? Consult a veterinarian immediately. Offer water at room temperature, not cold. Towels soaked in cool (not cold) water can be put between the legs and around the neck and even used to cover the dog—replace often as body heat will quickly raise the temperature of the towels. Do not use cold water or ice as this may send the dog into shock, complicating matters.
More importantly, how do you prevent it happening in your salon? Air conditioning is the first and most obvious answer, and a good one. Your employees will function better too and appreciate it. A large contributor to how hot it feels is humidity, and all the moisture from all the wet dogs you’ve done is in your air increasing it. A dehumidifier is a great way to combat that problem. Make sure each dog has free access to water. Sure, they may knock them over in the cage or on the floor at the most inopportune time (approximately two minutes before their owner arrives for pickup), but it’s worth it to make sure they stay hydrated and comfortable. Use small pint bowls or quart pails (even for larger dogs) to minimize spill damage, and fill them as needed. Fans with cooling packs can be put on cages for dogs that need them, and drying can be done with less heat.
Some groomers utilize box fans only for cage drying when heat is excessive, and touch up with small handhelds on cool to avoid adding to the heat in the room. If a heat wave has hit your town, consider rescheduling some of the more at-risk dogs to a cooler time, or change your hours to include some evenings or early mornings when the building is not so hot. Think of whatever you can to keep the four-legged clients in your care as cool and comfortable as possible, and do it.
What about passing on your knowledge of the risks of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in canines on to your clients? Besides telling them about the Facebook page, you can provide literature at the front desk on how to keep pets cool, or a list of useful web page addresses. Mydogiscool.com has downloadable posters and information, and having those materials out may lead to a conversation. Talk to people about heat exhaustion—many have no idea how much of a risk it can be for their pet to chase the ball in extreme heat and humidity. They assume that, if it was uncomfortable or unhealthy, the dog wouldn’t do it. Pet professionals know better, and we can help educate owners to keep their pets cool and comfortable this summer. Remind them to make sure fresh, cool water is available to their dog at all times. Consider selling some cooling items in your retail area (what? You don’t have one? Make one!) like the small cage cooling fans you might use. Beds that are raised to allow air circulation, mats that cool in the fridge and stay cool for hours, mats made of gel that absorbs body heat—all are good ways to help pets stay cool and healthy this summer. Stock stuffable Kong toys to amuse dogs quietly instead of tennis balls.
But most importantly, make sure your clients realize that their dog may be at risk from the heat. And while you are at it, what a wonderful opportunity to tell them what you, the caring and well-prepared groomer, are doing so that their pet stays comfortable and healthy on your watch. With reports all over the media about dogs being harmed at grooming salons, they’ll be reassured to know that you think about their dog’s health and take precautions to ensure a safe and comfortable grooming experience.