An Emergency Handbook for Treating Canine Heat Stroke Every Owner Should Memorize
According to Erica Reineke, associate professor of emergency and critical care at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, there are two causes of heat stroke in dogs, namely:
- Heat of exertion due to strenuous physical activity, or
- Ambient heat exposure to hot and humid conditions
Just like in humans, heat stroke is life threatening because it can cause widespread organ damage. Keep in mind that overweight, thick-haired dogs are at a higher risk of heatstroke.
Here are the symptoms of heatstroke that dog owners should watch out for and when to seek immediate veterinary care.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Dogs
Panting is normal as it is the primary way dogs regulate their body temperature. But according to Brian Collins, senior lecturer and chief of community practice at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, you should suspect heatstroke if panting:
- Seems more intense than usual, with heavier, more labored breaths
- Is associated with being exposed to the sun for long periods
- Occurs after intense or too intense physical activity
- Occurs while they are in a very hot environment, such as inside a car
In addition to heavy panting, watch out for other warning signs of heat stroke, such as:
- Excessive drooling
- Bright red gums and tongue
- Skin warm to the touch
Dogs most at risk for heat stroke
Any dog can develop heatstroke, but some are particularly at risk, says Reineke, including:
- Military or police dogs working in hot environments
- Overweight or obese dogs
- Brachycephalic or “flat-faced” dogs such as boxers, bulldogs, and pugs
- Dogs with very thick coats like Alaskan huskies
- Dogs with a history of heatstroke
How to help your dog
It’s important to gradually lower your dog’s body temperature to help him adjust to the extreme heat.
According to Reineke and Collins, keep the following things in mind when trying to help a dog showing signs of heatstroke:
When to consult a veterinarian immediately
Reineke recommends seeing a veterinarian immediately if your dog exhibits the following symptoms:
- Uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea
- Disorientation or abnormal mental awareness
- Weakness or collapse
Continue performing cooling measures on your way to the animal hospital. Spray your dog with cool water, turn on the air conditioning and roll down the windows for a breeze, Collins says.
When you arrive, the vet will continue the cooling process — which may include shaving dogs with thick coats, if necessary — and perform a full assessment, he adds.
According to Collins and Reineke, exposing a dog’s organs to dangerously high temperatures exposes them to the following risks:
- Low blood pressure
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Blood clotting disorders
- Systemic inflammation
- Multiple organ dysfunction syndrome
Dogs may require various treatments like intravenous fluids, antibiotics, painkillers, or other medications depending on their condition, Collins says.
How to prevent heatstroke
To prevent your dog from getting heatstroke, remember the following tips:
- Avoid the hottest hours of the day. Consider walking your dog early in the morning or later in the day when temperatures are cooler, says Reineke. “If it’s hot for you, it’s hot for them,” she adds.
- Provide access to shade and water. Dogs should always have access to shade and plenty of fresh water, Collins says. You can also provide a shallow pool outside the house during playtime for them to cool off when needed, he adds.
- Stay indoors during extreme heat events. During extremely hot days, keep your dog cool indoors with fans or air conditioning.
- Never leave your dog unattended in a car. Temperatures get dangerously hot within minutes, even when you think it’s not that hot outside, says Reineke.
“It’s helpful to remember that most dogs wear a permanent fur coat and are unable to significantly cool themselves by sweating like their peers do,” Collins says.
Your dog may be experiencing heatstroke if you see him panting and drooling excessively after strenuous physical activity or exposure to a hot, humid environment.
You can help them lower their temperature by placing them in front of a fan and spraying water on their body.
If your dog has uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, disorientation, and seizures, take him to the vet for immediate medical attention.