It is estimated that thousands of dogs each year die from heatstroke, and sadly, a staggering number of those cases are due to human error. Whether it’s a lack of adequate water and shade for an outside dog, or simply playing outside too long when it’s hot, heatstroke can happen quickly, and it can be deadly.
Death by heatstroke is preventable, and there are steps you can take to ensure your dog stays cool on even the hottest days of the year.
What Is Heatstroke: The Basics
Although even just the word ‘heatstroke’ can sound scary, knowing the facts behind heatstrokes in dogs can help you prevent them, and how to treat them.
What is Heatstroke in Dogs?
Heatstroke is when a dog’s internal temperature reaches above 39.4° C and begins to cause damage to vital organs. Temperatures ranging between 39.4°-40°C is considered a moderate heatstroke, Temperatures above that are considered a severe heatstroke. If you suspect that your dog may be experiencing a heatstroke, it is important to visit your veterinarian right away, as a dog who’s body maintains these high temperatures may suffer fatal consequences.
Signs and Symptoms of Heatstroke in Dogs
Learning the signs and symptoms of heatstroke in dogs will help you to act quickly if you think your dog may be experiencing a heatstroke. Signs and symptoms of heatstroke are:
- Excessive panting
- Breathing difficulty
- Red gums or pale gums
- Rapid heartbeat
- Loss of coordination or trouble standing
- Excessive thirst
- Purple or dark red tongue
- Sticky, thick saliva
It is important to note that your dog may not exhibit all of these signs and symptoms. If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms after being exposed to heat, you will need to take immediate action.
Heatstroke: Your Dog’s Risk Factors
Any dog exposed to hot temperatures is at risk of suffering a heatstroke, but some dogs are more predisposed than others.
Dogs with ‘pushed-in noses,’ also known as brachycephalic breeds, are more likely to succumb to heatstroke for a variety of reasons. French bulldogs, English bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, Shih Tzus, and Boxers, among others with short, stubby snouts, are considered high-risk when it comes to heatstrokes.
But Why are Brachycephalic Breeds More Prone to Heatstroke?
- A brachycephalic dog has a shorter muzzle than other dogs. Because of this, there is usually more skin and soft tissue in the area, narrowing or partially blocking the airway. This makes it difficult for a short-snouted dog to cool themselves quickly by panting alone.
- The esophagus of a brachycephalic dog is often more narrow or even deformed, making breathing more difficult.
- Narrowed nostrils can make inhaling more difficult in brachycephalic dogs.
- Since shorter-muzzled dogs have smaller mouths and tongues, they are unable to pull in enough air when panting. This means that brachycephalic breed dogs pant less effectively.
Older dogs carry their owns set of heatstroke risk factors. Many older dogs may be in poor health or are physically weaker, making it more difficult for them to pant. Additionally, older dogs are more likely to suffer a type of dementia and may not know that they need to consume water or move to shade. As an older dog’s body is less equipped to recover from a heatstroke, the chances of a fatality are higher.
Dogs Prone to Laryngeal Paralysis
Laryngeal paralysis is when a dysfunction in the larynx inhibits the ability to breathe deeply and may obstruct the airway. Labradors and Golden Retrievers are prone to laryngeal paralysis, making them highly susceptible to heatstroke
Other Heatstroke Risk Factors
Other conditions such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, lung disease also put a dog at a higher risk for heat stroke. If your dog is in poor health, it is especially important that you work to prevent heatstroke as much as possible.
Emergency Treatment: What to Do When Your Dog Suffers a Heatstroke
It may sound cliche, but the first thing to do when you think your dog may be suffering a heat stroke is to try remain calm. You only have a short window of time to treat your dog before it can become fatal. Staying calm will also help your dog remain calm. Causing your dog to get excited can worsen the situation.
Actions to Take if Your Dog is Experiencing a Heatstroke
If you cannot seek immediate, emergency veterinary care, there are steps you can take to try and reverse a heatstroke in your dog, or to at least lessen the damage the heatstroke is already causing. You will immediately needs to start “cooling” procedures.
Move you dog to a cooler area – Move your dog quickly (and carry him if you can) into cooler temperatures.
Run Cool (not cold!!) Water Over Your Dog – paying special attention to the head and neck, run cool (important: not cold!) water over your dog. Do not submerge a dog suffering heatstroke into a bathtub as he may drown. The idea is to lower your dog’s internal temperature gradually and safely.
Clean Your Dog’s Paw Pads – A dog’s paw pads contain sweat glands. Use rubbing alcohol or soap and water to clean the paw pads to ensure that these glands are not blocked. This will allow your dog to sweat and his body begin to cool itself down.
Take your dog’s temperature – Take your dog’s temperature every five minutes while you perform the aforementioned cooling methods. Once your dog’s temperature reaches 39.4° C, stop the cooling down measures and go to a veterinarian as soon as possible. He will monitor your dog and will give intravenous fluids if necessary.
Avoid giving your dog drinking water – it may sound counter intuitive, but until your dog’s body is cooled down enough to begin cooling itself on its own, avoid giving water. A dog suffering a heatstroke will very likely vomit after drinking water, causing him to get even more dehydrated. This is very dangerous.
Keep in mind – sometimes symptoms of a heatstroke do not happen instantaneously. Symptoms can develop even days later. If your dog has been exposed to high temperatures, keep a close eye on your dog for several days after.
How to Prevent Heatstroke
Heatstroke is an entirely preventable condition.Even if you don’t live in a hot climate, your dog can still succumb to heatstroke in a hot car or in humid conditions. There are several ways to ensure that your dog doesn’t fall victim to heatstroke:
Adequate Water – Make sure that your dog has access to clean, cool, fresh water at all times. Even in cooler temperatures, if your dog is very active, he can easily overheat and become dehydrated without enough water.
Provide Shade – If your dog must be outside for any length of time, make sure that you are providing a nice, shady spot for your dog to lay down in. Even if it is only a few degrees cooler in the shade, it can make a significant difference.
Limit Activity in the Hottest Parts of the Day – Keeping your dog calm and relaxed during the hottest parts of the day is imperative in heatstroke prevention. Save the playtime and long walks for the morning and evening.
Don’t Leave Your Dog In the Car – Leaving your dog in the car is extremely dangerous; a car can heat up to over 40°C, even if the weather outside is only 20°C! If you must leave your dog in your car for a few minutes, leave the air conditioning on and crack a window.
Ventilation is Key – Did you know a dog can suffer heatstroke by simply being stuck in an enclosed space? For example, a dog trapped in a bathroom with no windows can easily overheat with the lack of ventilation in the room. This can also happen in a dryer cage used by your groomer. Before dropping your dog off for a bath and a haircut, ask your groomer if they utilize dryer cages.
Summer weather is a great time to spend quality time with your dog outdoors. From hiking and camping trips to long walks around the neighborhood, your dog will benefit from spending time in the sunshine. As much as it is fun to play outside with your dog, it is equally important to do so safely. Prevent heatstroke from happening to your dog by being vigilant about water, shade and activity, so that you can enjoy the summer sun all season long!
As with any ailment in your dog, it is important to speak with your veterinarian before beginning any treatment plan. Some of the signs of heatstroke can also be signs of other disorders or diseases. If you believe your dog is suffering from heatstroke or any other condition, make an appointment with your veterinarian