Heatstroke in dogs
With temperatures rising above 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicago this past week and several incidents reported of dogs dying from heatstroke across the country, it is extremely important to realize that even normal activities can cause your dog to overheat. Dog heatstroke is a topic often brought up in the context of dogs being left in hot cars. However, dogs being left in cars are not the only dangerous environment or situation that owners can put them in. Overheating can happen even if you’re just out walking your dog in extremely hot weather. Heat exhaustion can lead to serious and potentially fatal conditions such as heat stroke (hyperthermia) and cardiac arrest.
In Birmingham, Alabama yesterday, a woman was charged with aggravated cruelty after leaving her dog in a hot car for 7 hours. Across the UK, weather soared past the 30°C (86 °F) mark for the past five days. The RSPCA received several calls about animals left in hot cars. On Saturday June 30th 2018, they received a call about an otherwise fit and healthy dog dying after suffering from heatstroke after a walk – the dog was taken on a walk at 8am when the temperature was 21 °C (69.8°F). The owners were devastated, no doubt.
Dogs do not sweat out excess body heat in the same way humans do. They regulate their body temperature through panting (rapid, open-mouthed breathing). Even very fit, athletic dogs can suffer from heatstroke. Dogs that are very young or very old, or that have compromised health, are at an even greater risk of heat-related illnesses.
Dogs with moderate heatstroke often recover without any major health problems. Severe heatstroke can kill your dog, or cause organ damage that may require ongoing care and special needs or dietary needs. If a dog suffers from heatstroke once, their risk of getting it again increases.
Signs of dog heatstroke:
- panting excessively
- excessive drooling (ptyalism)
- staggering or in a stupor
- having seizures
- high body temperature (above 103° F/39° C)
- tongue dark or bright red, sticky or dry gums
- no urine produced or only very small amounts
- muscle tremors
- black, tarry stools
- irregular heartbeats
- dog does not awaken when you try to stimulate it
If you suspect your dog has heatstroke:
- Douse him in cool water. Make sure it is not cold.
- Cooling your dog too quickly or allowing your dog’s body temperature to become too low can be counterproductive and can cause other problems. Be sure to watch their temperature carefully.
- Check his temperature every 5 minutes using a rectal thermometer. If it’s high (between 103 – 106° F / 39° C to 41° C), then he is in the danger zone – give him a little cool water to drink to bring his temperature down. Don’t force it, as it may end up in his lungs.
- if your dog won’t or can’t drink water or keep it down, wet his tongue with water instead. Do not feed ice cubes, as this would cause his temperature to drop too quickly, which could lead to shock.
- Once body temperature is 103° F/ 39° C, stop the cooling measures, dry your dog and keep them covered so they don’t lose any more body heat.
- call your vet
Your vet will lower your dog’s temperature (if you haven’t done so already) and will monitor it continually. She will give your dog fluids and possibly oxygen and check for shock, kidney failure and other complications that may arise. Blood samples may be taken as well, and she will check for clotting problems, which are a common occurrence.
Better safe than sorry:
Be safe. Take proper precautions and prevent your dog from overheating.
- Limit their exercise or outdoor activity (this includes regular walking) on excessively hot or humid days – save it for the evenings when it is cooler and the sun has set.
- Hot pavements and sidewalks can also burn their paw pads! Protect their paws. Parker and Co has a great all-natural paw balm that can protect and soothe your dog’s paws.
- Provide plenty of shade and water when they are kept outdoors.
- Never leave your dog in a parked car.
- If you have working dogs, be sure to give them several breaks in the shade and ensure they have cool fresh water around. Working dogs can become too focused on their job at hand and may forget to hydrate themselves or to rest – monitoring your dog is your responsibility.
- If your dog really needs to burn their energy, take them to an indoor doggy day care, take them swimming, or let them play in the sprinkler.
- Do not shave your dog if it is double-coated. Shaving your dog can actually make them hotter and cause more damage, depending on the dog. Have their undercoat thinned instead.
- Use a cooling body wrap if they don’t like to get wet.
- Do not muzzle your dog on hot days.