Heat Stroke in Dogs: What is it, how to treat it, and how to prevent it
As we approach the warm summer months, it becomes less comfortable to be outside for extended periods of time. If we, as humans, are hot, how do you think your dog feels? Dogs feel the heat as much and more than we do and are not as efficient at cooling themselves off. Dogs pant to cool down; they do not have the ability to sweat. When a dog begins to overheat, the symptoms can be more subtle and much more dangerous if not recognized and treated.
Some of the major symptoms of impending heat stroke in dogs are:
· Rapid panting
· Thick drool
· Bright red and/or swollen tongue
· Unsteadiness on their feet
· Rapid or weak heartbeat
· Wide eyes
· Nose, legs and ears hot to the touch
· Bloody diarrhea
If your dog has been outside on a hot day or in a car and you see any of these signs, you must begin treatment. A dog’s normal body temperature is around 101 to 102 degrees. Anything above this and your dog has a “fever” or is beginning to overheat. At around 106 degrees, brain damage, organ failure and death can result rather quickly. It is imperative that you act fast and do not ignore these symptoms.
Begin cooling the dog as soon as possible. Get your dog out of the sun and begin using cool or cold water to wet your dog down. A hose is ideal, as the circulating water over your dog will continue to penetrate the coat and keep the cooling process going. A tub of water is not the best option because the water will sit on the coat and will actually warm and insulate the dog from cool water around it. Try to run the hose water over your dog while he is in front of a fan as this will encourage the water to evaporate and make the cooling process more effective. You will also want to wet some towels in cold water and place them on the dog’s neck, head, stomach and groin area.
Keep an eye on their temperature by using a rectal thermometer. If you see their temperature begin to drop to around 104 or 103, stop the cooling process!!! Once a dog’s body begins to cool, it can drop quickly and getting them too cool can create different problems. Dry the dog off once the temp starts going down and get him to the vet as soon as possible. The vet will determine if more treatment is needed or if any lasting damage has occurred.
One thing you don’t want to do right away is allow your dog to drink a lot of water. If a dog is panting excessively and then drinks a lot of water, he will swallow a good amount of air with the water and that can cause an equally life-threatening case of bloat in their stomach. Allow the dog only a couple of laps of water until their temperature begins to drop to a more normal level. Also, do not swim your dog and then leave them in an enclosed kennel or a hot car wet as this will create a sauna effect and only worsen the heat stroke. Make sure your dog is dry and cooled before putting him in his kennel.
There are simple ways to ensure that your dog stays safe and doesn’t suffer from heat stroke. The primary way is to keep them out of the hot sun during the heat of the day. Make sure your dog has adequate shade all day long if he is going to remain out doors and provide water continuously that can’t be tipped over. Do not chain your dog in an area where he can circle and wrap his chain or tether to the point that it is too short to reach water or shade. Keep in mind that shade moves throughout the day and your dog must be able to reach it all day long.
Also, never, never leave your dog in the car on a hot day. In a matter of 10 minutes, your car can escalate in temperature up to 40 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. Rolling the windows down will not do much to help unless there is a strong wind. If you must have your dog with you in the car during the summer, you should take him out of the car when you stop for a period of time and your car should be in the shade at the very minimum. Ideally, your dog should remain at home during the summer months when you decide to take a drive.
Don’t exercise your dog in the heat of the day during the summer. If your dog needs exercise and play, do so during the early morning and late evening and keep a close eye on your dog’s physical state. Watch for the early signs of heat stroke like heavy panting or tiredness and stop the exercise at that point. Also, unless your dog is used to exercising in the heat, you may need to start slowly and, gradually, over several weeks, increase the activity level so your dog can adjust.
Know the factors that can put a dog at a higher risk for heat stroke.
· Dark coated breeds
· Brachycephalic breeds: breeds with short muzzles such as Pugs, Mastiffs, Boxers, and Pekingese. These dogs have shorter airways making their cooling method of panting not as effective
· Puppies up to the age of six months or older dogs past the age of seven
· Sick dogs
· Any dog suffering from a respiratory disease; coughing, wheezing, nasal discharge, congestion
· Dogs with heart disease
· Overweight dogs
· Dogs with muzzles on
· Any dog that has already had a heat stroke before. Once a dog has suffered from heat stroke, they are much more likely to have another.
If your dog falls into any one of these categories, take extra precaution in hotter weather to ensure they are safe and cool. Whether your dog is high risk or not, it is important to be educated and to use good judgment during the summer months to ensure your dog doesn’t become a victim to this life threatening situation.
Other good Heat Stroke sites ASPCA Dog Heat Stroke