It’s traditionally been those searing hot days between July 3 and August 11, the “dog days of summer.” These mid-summer weeks have long been associated with uncomfortable heat, drought, and at one time, mad dogs.

The “dog days” phrase originated with the Ancient Romans, who observed that the lack of rain and extreme heat coincided with the appearance of the Dog Star, Sirius, in the Canis Major constellation. As Sirius happens to be the brightest star in the heavens, the Romans reasoned that its brightness somehow contributed to the heat of the day. Truth is, Sirius is about 8.7 light years from earth (roughly 50 trillion miles), so the Romans were, well, a bit mistaken in their calculations. Interestingly, some calendars, like that in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, list the ‘Dog Daies’ as running from July 6 to August 17, which may be why the feast of St. Roch, the patron saint of dogs, falls on August 16.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac lists the traditional timing of the Dog Days as beginning with the heliacal (at sunrise) rising of Sirius. While the rising of Sirius does not actually affect the weather (some of our hottest and most humid days in the US can occur well into September ((known as “Indian Summer,” and a story for another time)), the ancient Egyptians noted that Sirius appeared at a time of extreme heat. As a result, the connection with hot, sultry weather was made for all time.

Now, simply because “dog days” doesn’t literally mean a time when it’s so hot that dogs simply lay around, there is legitimate reason for concern about your dog’s health during times of severe heat and humidity.

The reason for that concern is a condition known as hyperthermia, an elevation in body temperature that is above the generally accepted normal range. Although normal values for dogs vary slightly, it usually is accepted that body temperatures above 103° F (39° C) are abnormal. Hyperthermia often takes the form of heat stroke, a serious condition brought on when the dog’s heat-dissipating mechanisms cannot accommodate excessive external heat and one that can lead to multiple organ failure.

Recognizing the Signs of Heat Stroke
So, what warning signs will tell you that your dog may be suffering from heat stroke?

• Panting (excessive and unceasing)
• Dehydration
• Excessive drooling
• Reddened gums
• Production of only small amounts of urine
• Rapid heart rate
• Irregular heart beats
• Shock
• Sudden breathing distress
• Vomiting blood
• Passage of blood in the bowel movement or stool
• Muscle tremors
• Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken gait
• Unconsciousness from which the dog cannot be awakened

What to Avoid
Exercising your dog in sweltering heat. Leaving him or her without water or in an unventilated car. These are sure ways to put your pet in danger of heat stroke. During these “dog days”, keep your pet hydrated, make lots of water and shade readily available, and never leave him or her in a vehicle with the windows up.

If your pet shows any signs that might be interpreted as on-setting heat stroke, do your best to offer water and shade, then get to your Boca Raton pet care specialist as soon as possible. While the Romans and Egyptians were a little off base about what causes the extreme heat, they were right about one thing: Sometimes it’s just too dang hot to be outside, and it doesn’t matter whether you have two legs or four!

*Illustration courtesy of National Geographic Magazine.