Dogs and Heat Stroke: What You Need to Know
Overheating goes by many names, including heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or heat prostration. No matter what you call it, overheating means trouble for dogs.
Why dogs are prone to heat exhaustion
Our canine friends don’t perspire; they dissipate excess body heat by panting, which doesn’t cool as efficiently as good old sweating. They also can’t take off their fur coats, turn on the fan, or fill their own water bowls.
All dogs are prone to heat stroke but some are more prone than others. For example:
- The very young or very old.
- Dogs that are overweight.
- Dogs with short noses such as Boston Terriers, Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boxers.
- Dogs with thick coats such as Huskies or St. Bernards.
- Over-enthusiastic dogs that don’t quit when they get too hot.
Heat stroke is more likely to occur when both temperature and humidity are high. When a dog experiences heat exhaustion, his temperature may rise rapidly from normal (approximately 101.5 degrees F) to 104-105 degrees F. At this point, the dog loses the ability to regulate his body temperature, and it continues to rise.
High body temperature can potentially harm internal organs. Without a quick, appropriate cool down, major organs may be irreversibly damaged, resulting in death.
Preventing heat stroke
We need to keep our dogs safe, especially if they spend lots of time outdoors. Here are some tips:
- Make sure there is plenty of shade in the yard and train your dog to rest in a shady area by placing his water bowl and toys under a large tree, covered patio or canopy.
- Provide a constant source of fresh water and keep it cool by occasionally adding a few ice cubes to the bowl.
- If your yard doesn’t benefit from a nice breeze, use a fan. Be careful to keep electrical cords out of your dog’s reach.
- Some dogs find a quick dip in the water very refreshing – a plastic kiddie pool works well.
- If you have a real swimming pool, train your dog to use the swim out or steps, or block access if those aren’t options. Dogs don’t climb ladders and accidental drownings occur every summer as dogs exhaust themselves treading water when they can’t find a way out of the pool.
- Walk your dog in the early morning or late evening when the temperature is cooler. Take shorter walks or runs than usual, and stop for frequent water breaks.
- Bring along a mister and spray your dog during exercise sessions.
- When you return home, you can give your dog a good spray with the water hose, but remember that water left in the hose becomes very hot, so let the water flow for a few minutes before spraying your dog.
- Keep outdoor play sessions short, even if your dog insists you should keep throwing the stick.
Signs of heat stroke
It’s important for you to recognize the warning signs of heat stroke. Dogs that suffer heat stroke may have these symptoms:
- Excessive panting
- Pale gums
- Increased heart rate
- Drooling thick, ropey saliva
With severe heat exhaustion, dogs experience serious breathing difficulties and may become disoriented or non-responsive. They may collapse and be unable to move. In the most difficult cases, dogs become comatose and die.
What to do if you see these signs
If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, provide emergency care.
- Immediately move your dog to a cooler area inside an air-conditioned house, under a shaded covering, or in front of a fan.
- Wet him with cool (not ice cold) water. Either immerse him in a tub of water or gently wet him with a hose. Do not force him to drink water.
- Saturate his foot pads with alcohol.
- If you can, monitor his temperature with a rectal thermometer. When he cools down to a safer temperature (102-103 degrees), place wet towels on him and proceed immediately to your veterinarian.
Hospital treatment for heat exhaustion
Rapid response may cool your dog off, but it’s important for dogs to see their doctor even if they look normal after an overheating episode. His core body temperature may have reached a critical level before your intervention.
Your veterinarian will begin other lifesaving measures in the hospital to avoid potential organ damage. Your dog’s doctor may start an IV of rehydrating fluids, give medications to stabilize respiration, and treat shock. Your veterinarian may suggest a hospital stay for further treatment and laboratory tests to make sure his organs aren’t damaged.
Enjoy the Summer
Summer is a great time to be outdoors. It can be even more fun if we remember to take precautions to prevent heat exhaustion for ourselves AND our pups.