Pets: Ask Dr. Kev

How should you exercise your pup in the heat? Are raisins really toxic for dogs? A Denver vet offers his advice.

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Now that it’s summer, how worried should I be that my beagle will overheat when we jog together?
“Colorado’s famous 300 days of sunshine can be hard on dogs. Canines are notoriously poor at getting rid of excessive heat; they can’t sweat, and their only method of evaporative cooling is to pant. So watch your dog closely for signs of overheating: heavy panting; rapid, shallow breathing; hypersalivation or drooling; pale, dry mucus membranes; and reluctance to move. Try to exercise before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Pay attention to the substrate your dog is walking on; superheated asphalt can approach 120° F and burn your friend’s pads. Bring water for you and your dog. Never leave a dog in a closed automobile. Even at 70° F outside, the temperature in a closed car can rise 20° in just 15 minutes. Imagine what can happen if the outside air is 100° F. Our dogs depend on us for good decisions. Plan summertime exercise smartly. Now get outside.”

What is all this I hear about raisins and grapes being toxic to dogs? My Labrador has been eating them for years and seems okay. What gives?
“Dr. Kev: In the mid-1990s, there were reports that grapes and raisins could poison dogs. But some dogs can eat many grapes with no apparent ill effects, while other dogs develop clinical signs after ingesting as few as three to five grapes. The problem is we do not know which dogs will be affected, the exact toxic principle in grapes, or the particular mechanism of this toxicity. What is clear is that dogs sensitive to grapes develop kidney disease, with symptoms including vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, and abdominal pain, usually beginning within 24 hours of ingestion. The toxic agent in grapes or raisins responsible for kidney failure in some dogs is a mystery, but prognosis is good if treatment—emptying of the stomach and aggressive intravenous fluid therapy—is done quickly. To be safe, no dogs should be given grapes or raisins. Call your vet if you have questions.”

Kevin T. Fitzgerald, PhD, DVM
Staff veterinarian at the VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital