- Never leave a dog alone in a vehicle, even if the windows are partially opened.
- Dogs need cool, shady places during the hot weather with plenty of clean, fresh water, accessible at all times.
- Feed animals in the cooler hours of the day.
- Heatstroke is life-threatening for dogs (and cats). Signs to watch for are heavy or loud breathing, a staggering walk or a bright red tongue.
- We tend to forget that dogs’ paws can burn easily. Protect your dog’s paws from getting burned on hot pavement; walk your dog on grass or other cooler surfaces.
The summer months can be brutal to your dog. Dogs are much more susceptible to heatstroke than humans. One reason for this is your dog wears his fur coat all year round. And while dogs do have sweat glands on their feet, they do not have them on the rest of their body. They rely on panting, a method of breathing out excess heat, to cool down their bodies. This method is not as effective as sweating.
If you suspect your dog has heatstroke, cool him down as quickly as you can and call your vet immediately. Some of the symptoms are:
- excessive panting
- increased salivation
- dry gums that become pale, grayish and tacky
- rapid or erratic pulse
- possible rectal bleeding
If the dog continues to overheat, breathing efforts become slowed or absent, and finally, seizures or coma can occur.
The amount of damage a dog sustains when stricken with heatstroke depends on the magnitude and duration of the exposure. The longer and more severe the exposure, the worse the damage will be.
Ways to Avoid Heatstroke
Do not leave your dog in a parked car on hot days. Even on 70° F (22° C) or 80° F (26° C) days, if your car is parked in the sun, even with the windows cracked, temperatures can reach over 100° F (38° C) in just a few minutes. Parking in the shade will help a little, but on hot days, even parking in the shade is not enough. It is best to leave your dog home.
Provide plenty of fresh cool drinking water. Dogs should be provided with water at all times. Keep your dog’s water clean and fresh. Do not leave your dog’s water bowl in the sun, or it will heat up. Imagine drinking a cup of hot tea in the summer sun!
Exactly What is Heatstroke?
In simple terms, heatstroke occurs when a dog loses its natural ability to regulate its body temperature. Dogs don’t sweat all over their bodies the way humans do. Canine body temperature is primarily regulated through respiration (i.e., panting). If a dog’s respiratory tract cannot evacuate heat quickly enough, heatstroke can occur.
What to Do:
- Pay attention to your dog. Recognizing the symptoms of heatstroke and responding quickly is essential for the best possible outcome.
- Get into the shade. If you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke, move it into a shaded area and out of direct sunlight. Apply cool water to the inner thighs and stomach of the dog, where there’s a higher concentration of relatively superficial, large blood vessels. Apply cool water to the foot pads, as well.
- Use running water. A faucet or hose is the best way to wet down your dog’s body. Never submerge your dog in water, such as in a pool or tub – this could cool the dog too rapidly, leading to further complications, including cardiac arrest and bloating.
- Use cool – not cold – water. Many people make the mistake of using cold water or ice to cool the dog. When faced with a dog suffering from heatstroke, remember that the goal is to cool the dog. Using ice or extremely cold water is actually counterproductive to this process because ice and cold water cause the blood vessels to constrict, which slows blood flow, thus slowing the cooling process.
- Don’t cover the dog. One of the keys to successfully cooling your dog is ensuring the water being placed on the dog can evaporate. Never cover an overheated dog with a wet towel or blanket. This inhibits evaporation and creates a sauna effect around your dog’s body. Likewise, don’t wet the dog down and put it into an enclosed area, such as a kennel. Any air flow during the cooling process is helpful in reducing the dog’s body temperature. Sitting with the wet dog in a running car with the air conditioner blowing is an ideal cooling situation.
- Keep the dog moving. It’s important to try to encourage your dog to stand or walk slowly as it cools down. This is because the circulating blood tends to pool in certain areas if the dog is lying down, thus preventing the cooled blood from circulating back to the core.
- Allow the dog to drink small amounts of water. Cooling the dog is the first priority. Hydration is the next. Don’t allow the dog to gulp water. Instead, offer small amounts of water that’s cool, but not cold. If the dog drinks too much water too rapidly, it could lead to vomiting or bloat.
- Avoid giving human performance drinks. Performance beverages designed for humans are not recommended because they are not formulated with the canine’s physiology in mind. If you can’t get an overheated dog to drink water, try offering chicken- or beef-based broths.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
The best treatment for heatstroke is prevention. Especially during the summer months, it’s essential to be aware of the potential for heatstroke. Knowing the signs of heatstroke, and taking the necessary steps to prevent it, will ensure your dog can have a safe and active life year-round.