In this post, our Huntersville vets explain what causes heat stroke, symptoms to watch for and actions to take if you think your dog is suffering from the condition. Plus: tips for prevention.
Do dogs suffer from heat stroke?
Heat stroke (hyperthermia) is a real danger for dogs once the hot weather arrives. Unlike humans, dogs can’t shed their coats in the summer, so their bodies get hotter quicker. They are unable to sweat and eliminate heat from their bodies by panting and breathing (sweat glands in their feet are of minimal help here). When this isn’t enough, body temperature increases and can be life-threatening if not brought down quickly.
Normally, a dog’s body temperature ranges between 100.2° and 102.8°F. When his cooling mechanisms cannot catch up with the amount of heat, his body can overheat and symptoms of heat stroke such as heat cramps, stress or dehydration can set in. When a dog’s body temperature increases past 104°, he enters the danger zone. With a body temperature above 106°F, heat stroke can happen.
That’s why we need to ensure our dogs stay as cool and comfortable as possible in the summer months.
What causes heat stroke in dogs?
Our dogs depend on us to keep them safe year-round, and that includes on summer days when some people are out in the hot sun all day. The temperature in your car can rise to dangerous levels quickly (even when it does not seem “that hot” to us), so leave the dog at home while you shop.
Similarly, when you go to the beach or are out in the backyard, ensure your dog has plenty of access to shade and water - these are vitally important, especially to senior dogs and those with medical conditions such as obesity.
Breed is also a factor, as flat-faced, short-nosed canines tend to be more susceptible to breathing problems. Fur also plays an important role; a coat of thick fur would be similar to a human wearing a parka in July - it gets uncomfortable fast.
Even if your dog relishes a chance to be out playing and exercises, they need close supervision, especially on days when the temperature is rising outside.
What are symptoms of heat stroke?
In warm weather, keep a close eye on your dog for symptoms of heat stroke. These could include:
- Signs of discomfort
- Unwilling or unable to move (or uncoordinated movement)
- Excessive panting
- Mental flatness or “dullness”
- Red gums
- Loss of consciousness and collapsing
What should I do if my dog is suffering from heat stroke?
Fortunately, if mild heat stroke is detected early, it can be reversed. If you notice your dog exhibiting any of the symptoms above, take him to a cooler place immediately. If he has lost consciousness, avoid submerging his head in water (to prevent aspiration pneumonia), and:
- Put your dog in the bathtub, or use a hose (check the hose first for hot water to ensure none of this is sprayed onto your dog’s body). If you do not have access to a bathtub or hose, place a towel soaked in cold water on his back.
- Cover the body with water, especially the neck and head.
- Do not force your dog to drink cool water, but let him have as much as he wants.
- Contact your veterinarian or nearest emergency animal hospital to let them know you are on your way. They will give advice based on symptoms and how quickly you can get to the clinic.
Whether your dog seems to be recovering well, or was only exhibiting mild symptoms, take these steps:
- Look for symptoms of shock (ask your veterinarian what to watch out for) and treat them.
- Check your dog’s temperature every five minutes. Continue attempting to cool him with water until his temperature drops below 103°F (or 39.4°C). A slightly low temperature - for example 100°F or 37.8°C, is much less worrisome.
- Immediate veterinary attention is critical, as heat stroke can cause invisible but serious symptoms such as abnormal heart rhythms, brain damage and kidney failure. More obvious problems may include seizures and respiratory arrest. Tragically, these do not always show up right away.
- Do not provide aspirin to a dog suffering from heat stroke, as this can lead to other issues.
How is heat stroke treated?
For most dogs suffering from heat stroke, we supply intravenous fluid and watch for complications such as neurological symptoms, drastic changes in blood pressure and kidney failure.
How can I prevent my dog from getting heat stroke?
Take special care not to expose your canine friend to the heat and humidity in the dog days of summer - their bodies (especially breeds with short faces) just can’t handle it.
We can keep our pooches calm, cool and safe during summer by ensuring they have lots of shade to retreat to, and easy access to water to keep their body temperature where it should be.
Use a specially designed dog seat belt or well-ventilated dog crate in your vehicle. NEVER leave your dog in a car with windows closed, even if it’s parked in the shade.