We all know how important it is for your dog to go outside but on a hot day, how much is too much? After a long, hot day at the dog park, how can you tell if your dog is suffering from heatstroke or simply needs a rest? Being able to identify whether your dog is overheated or exhibiting signs of something much worse can mean the difference between life and death. Since dogs don't sweat like humans, it is extremely important to make sure your dog is not exposed to high temperatures for any length of time.
What is heat exposure?
Just because it is hot outside or you notice your dog is panting, does not mean that your precious pup is suffering from heat stroke. It is possible that hot weather or increased activity like a rousing game of fetch has simply left your dog feeling the heat and a few minutes of panting, a dish of cold water, and a rest in the shade is all your dog needs to get her temperature back to normal. Heat stroke, on the other hand is severe and needs to be addressed right away.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke, also called hyperthermia, is when a dog's body temperature has risen above healthy levels, and not as a result of a fever. While dogs have a relatively high body temperature, heatstroke occurs when their internal temperature is 106 degrees or higher. Dogs don't regulate their own body temperatures as easily as humans do. The combination of a year-round fur coat, naturally high internal temperature, and panting as their main method of cooling off means that your dog might need help to make sure he's not overheating. Heat stroke occurs when your dog's natural methods for dissipating heat aren't enough to combat the increased core temperature. So, unlike heat exposure which can be resolved with a rest and a drink of water, heat stroke is much more severe and can have some significant complications such as neurological problems, internal organ issues, and even death.
What causes heat stroke?
Most of the time, heat stroke occurs because humans have done something irresponsible or careless. One of the most common events that cause heat stroke is being locked in a hot car. Even on a not-so-hot day, the inside of a car can reach temperatures in the 100's. If you see a dog locked in a hot car, call 911. Even a few minutes in the heat with no air flow and fresh water can have life altering ramifications for a dog. Heat stroke can also occur from intense exercise in hot or humid weather and inadequate access to shade or fresh water.
Though every dog can have heat stroke, some dog breeds are more susceptible. Brachycephalic dogs such as pugs, bull dogs, or other short nosed dog breeds have a harder time cooling off. For these dogs, panting doesn't quite cut it, meaning they aren't able to take in enough air to adequately cool their internal temperatures. For this reason, it is best not to engage your flat-faced fave in heavy activity on a hot day. Protect your pug or Frenchie by staying cool and skipping that hike or run in hot weather.
Other causes of heatstroke include illness or diseases that might inhibit breathing. Inflammation in your dog's respiratory tract, nose, mouth, or throat make it more difficult for your dog to cool off and get enough air. Heart disease or other vascular diseases can also make your pup susceptible to heat stroke.
What are signs that a dog is overheating?
It is important to know the signs and symptoms of heatstroke. Excessive panting is the first clue. If your dog is panting profusely, take a break from whatever you are doing and grab a cool drink of water. If you dog is lethargic, moving slowly or unsteadily, falling over or unable to get up, these are additional signs that he may be suffering from heat stroke.
Additional symptoms include dry mouth, tacky feeling tongue or gums, weakness or confusion, rapid pulse, vomiting or diarrhea, lack of urine output, or even rectal bleeding. If your dog is suffering from any of these symptoms, it is urgent that you take him to the vet as they are a sign that heat stroke has caused massive internal issues.
What to do if your dog has heat stroke
If you notice that your dog is showing signs of heatstroke, don't second guess yourself! Acting quickly can make all the difference and prevent serious complications from occurring. First, stop whatever physical activity your dog may be doing. Relocate him to a cool, dry place either inside or in the shade.
Cool off your dog by pouring cool-not cold- water on his inner thighs, stomach, and foot pads. The goal is to help lower his internal temperature, and these areas are less insulated by fur and have blood vessels closer to the surface of his skin. Use a hose or other source of running water, but do not submerge your dog in a pool or bath. The goal is to cool off your dog quickly, but not too quickly. If he gets too cold too fast, it can cause other issues and complications, so don't use ice or cold packs.
Don't cover your dog with wet towels or blankets. Again, since the goal is to cool him off, he needs to be able to create air flow both through his respiratory tract and also along his body. Air flow is integral to the cool down process, so sitting your wet dog in front of an air conditioner or a fan is especially effective.
Allow your dog to walk around slowly. While you want to minimize movement, you don't want it to stop all together. It is important that your dog is moving around slowly to make sure that his blood is circulating. This will also help cool him off and prevent blood pooling in his extremities.
Once your dog has started to cool down, offer him small sips of water. Don't let him gulp down a ton of water, but rather give it to him slowly. If he refuses to drink water, try giving him beef or chicken based broths, and avoid any hydration beverages meant for humans.
When to see the vet
If your dog is suffering from heat stroke, take him to the vet. If you think your dog was suffering from heat stroke, but you did all of the above steps and he seems like he's cooled off and no longer is exhibiting scary symptoms like lethargy or vomiting, you should still take him to the vet. It is important that your dog is checked out by a professional veterinarian since even if he seems to be fine, it is possible that your dog is suffering from internal issues not visible to an untrained eye. One of the most common causes of death of dogs who have suffered heat stroke is called DIC or Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation, and this can manifest up to 72 hours after a heat stroke episode, so don't hesitate to call your vet.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.