Imagine yourself on a hot summer day with the sun pounding down on you. Now imagine you can’t sweat and you are wearing a fur coat! That's what your dog experiences!
Dogs can be particularly prone to heat stroke, since they do not perspire over their body like people, they are limited to cooling themselves by panting, sweat glands are limited to their nose and feet, and the fact that they are covered in fur. Also, dogs do not have control over their circumstances, like being left in a hot car, an area with no shade, or without water, and they are limited in their ability to communicate when they are in distress and starting to overheat. This results in many hundreds of dogs suffering heat stroke each year, many cases resulting in the dog's death.
Understanding Heat Stroke
If your dog is exposed to heat, humidity, excessive physical exertion, or is locked or tied in a hot area like on concrete with no shade or in a car, they can quickly succumb to overheating followed by heatstroke. Heatstroke is a condition that occurs when your dog's core body temperature becomes too high. A normal body temperature for dogs is between 101 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. A dog suffering heat stroke has an elevated temperature, around 106 F. The elevated body temperature results in cell death, followed by your dog's organ systems becoming compromised, and nervous system damage and organ failure can result.
Symptoms of heatstroke in your dog include:
An elevated temperature 104 to 108 degrees F
Dehydration and thirst
Heavy panting and salivation, which may be thick and sticky
Very bright red gums and tongue
Weakness and dizziness
Loss of coordination, and energy level (depression)
Vomiting and diarrhea
Dehydration resulting in kidney failure
Swelling of brain may occur resulting in seizures, coma, cardiac arrest and death
Symptoms can progress quite rapidly with your dog experiencing overheating, heat stroke, and fatal consequences within a short period of time depending on their level of exposure to heat and the speed with which relief and treatment is provided. Heat stroke can be easily prevented by taking appropriate considerations to keep your dog from overheating.
Preventing Heat Stroke in Your Dog
Heat stroke occurs when a dog's body temperature becomes elevated beyond that which the dog's body is able to regulate. A body temperature of 104 degrees or more is indicative of an elevated body temperature, and once temperatures of 106 or higher are reached your dog will be in extreme distress and unable to cool themselves adequately to prevent tissue damage.
It would seem that dogs were designed for keeping warm more so than keeping cool. They are covered in an insulative hair or fur coat, and their sweat glands are limited to their nose and footpads. They can also cool themselves by panting, but these mechanisms are fairly limited when the dog is exposed to extreme heat conditions. In addition, older dogs, puppies and branylacephic dogs, or dogs in poor health, are even more limited in their ability to cool themselves naturally.
When dogs are exposed to high temperatures and/or high humidity their ability to employ their limited heat shedding devices is quickly overwhelmed and heat stroke can result. The most common and extreme examples of this are when dogs are left in vehicles in hot conditions. Even when the sun is not shining directly on the vehicle, or when windows are left open a crack, a vehicle on a hot day rapidly reaches intolerable temperatures which can result in anyone, or any pet inside, quickly succumbing to heatstroke. Many states are adopting laws against leaving a dog in a vehicle in hot conditions and causing them to be in distress, and give emergency personnel license to intervene. To avoid heatstroke you should never leave your dog in a car on a hot day. Any situation where your dog is confined to a hot environment with no ability to avoid heat can result in heatstroke, similar situations include being tied or fenced with no shade. Concrete can become extremely hot and can even burn your dog's paws. Confinement indoors in unventilated garages or even homes with no air flow can result in heat stroke. Always ensure your dog has access to shade, cool footing such a grass, AC, a fan, ventilation and plenty of water to avoid heatstroke.
Overheating and heatstroke can also occur due to overexertion. Avoid allowing your dog to participate in extreme activities in hot environments. The physical effects of exercise combined with a hot environment can cause heatstroke as your dog's body temperature elevates from the activity and his surroundings faster than he can cool himself. Monitoring your dog's activity to ensure it does not become excessive and monitoring their temperature if necessary on hot days, where activity is necessary, such as while hiking, is advised.
If your are traveling or engaging in activity in a hot environment you can monitor your dog's body temperature with a rectal thermometer if necessary to ensure their body temperature does not become elevated.
Dehydration can also contribute to heat stroke. Always ensure your dog has plenty of cool water on a hot day. Avoid ice cold water which they may avoid, or that can shock your dog's system if they are experiencing overheating.
Do not muzzle a dog on a hot day, or otherwise interfere with their ability to pant and cool themselves.
Providing a sprinkler or soaking your dog down with a hose when they are exposed to a hot environment, will help keep them cool and avoid overheating. If your dog likes water you can provide them with a kiddie pool they can access. Cold packs can also be used to keep you dog cool on a hot day and avoid overheating.
Another preventive method, especially for long coated or haired dogs, is to clip them during hot months so they have better air circulation to their skin to allow cooling. Note that over-clipping and exposure of skin can result in sunburn, so an appropriate length of about 1 inch is best.
Importance of Preventing Heat Stroke
Keeping your dog cool to prevent heatstroke is important as the condition can progress so rapidly in our furry friends. It is devastating for a pet owner to lose a dog to heat stroke, knowing that it could have been prevented. Providing a cool environment for your canine companion also provides a cool environment for yourself and your family, which makes everyone feel better and avoids heat stroke for yourself, and especially young children or seniors present in your home. Leaving your dog in a hot car can result not only in heatstroke and death in your dog, but is illegal in many places, and can result in a prosecution. Always plan ahead when traveling in a vehicle with your dog to make sure there is an appropriate place for them to stay cool. Better yet, leave your dog at home in an air conditioned or ventilated environment where they are safest.
Simple, Essential Steps
Dogs can be extremely prone to heatstroke, and it can progress rapidly and result in a serious medical crisis or even death. This condition is highly avoidable by ensuring that your dog is able to avoid a hot environment, is not overexerted on a hot day, and has plenty of water. Steps to help your dog keep cool such as wetting them down, clipping hair, and using ice packs or a fan to help them cool down are extremely beneficial in a hot environment. Remember that your dog cannot communicate when they first start feeling distress due to heat, so pet owners need to ensure that our pets do not suffer from excessive heat exposure and they have the ability to cool down before their body temperature becomes dangerously elevated. Never leave your dog in a hot car on a warm day. It takes only a short period of time for a car to become a death trap to a dog that cannot escape the elevated temperatures. Panning for your dog’s needs in the heat will prevent heatstroke and possible tragic results.