If you have a soft spot for stray dogs, you probably know all to well how difficult it can be to initially assess a stray's current health situation. Fortunately, some of the most common situations that a stray dog faces are intimately tied to the weather. Thus, if you know the symptoms of the most common summer and winter health threats that stray dogs face, you will be better equipped to assist the next stray that comes your way.
Is Your Stray Overheated?
If you met your stray on a hot summer day, you might have an overheating emergency on your hands. A lost dog can travel many miles over the course of a single day, especially if the dog is not neutered, the weather is nice, or the dog is easily startled. Miles of traveling in the hot sunshine will easily catch up with a stray dog; to make matters worse, in most cases, water is not easily accessible.
The symptoms of overheating and heat exhaustion are not hard to identify. If you notice that the stray dog is panting excessively, breathing audibly, and displaying bright red or even blue gums, there is a strong chance that this dog is suffering from heat exhaustion. If the stray also exhibits dry, sunken eyes and a dry mouth and nose, dehydration may also be the culprit. Apply cool, wet rags to the dog's skin and offer the stray some fresh water. Then, immediately call your veterinarian and alert the staff that you are coming in for emergency treatment. Dehydration and heat exhaustion, if left untreated, can be fatal.
Is Your Stray Suffering From Hypothermia?
If, on the other hand, you find a stray dog in the winter months, check for symptoms of hypothermia. Not all dogs are capable of handling extremely cold temperatures, and even those bred for the cooler climates, like Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes, can struggle after hours of exposure.
If you find a stray dog in the cold, take note if the dog is shivering excessively, whining, and appears anxious and weak. These are all symptoms of hypothermia. Also, check the dog's paws for any bleeding or cracking, as the winter weather can wreak serious damage on a dog's feet. Immediately bring the dog inside; your stray might even be suffering from the early stages of frostbite, which is more difficult to diagnose. Just as with heat exhaustion and dehydration, attend to the dog's immediate needs and provide warmth and shelter, and then contact your veterinarian for a comprehensive exam.
Regardless of whether you find your stray dog in the extreme heat or extreme cold, you can use this emergency veterinary visit as an opportunity to perform an overall wellness check. Once providing emergency treatment, your veterinarian can examine the dog and give you an estimate as to the dog's age and general health, along with up-to-date inoculations and medical recommendations. This way, if you are unable to locate the owner and get to keep the dog, you will be confident that your new friend will be a healthy--and thankful!--companion.