Preventing & Identifying Heat Stroke in Dogs
Heatwaves and extreme heat events are becoming more and more common, which sadly means we need to change our plans when it comes to taking our dogs out for fun summer times. Just like in humans, you should learn to recognize the signs of heatstroke in your dog. Knowing the necessary steps to take once you’ve identified that your dog is potentially experiencing heat stroke (or at least discomfort due to extreme heat) can significantly impact your pet's chances of recovery. Naturally, the first step is ensuring you know how to identify the signs of heat stroke in dogs.
Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs
Heatstroke in dogs shows up in several ways, some can be subtle (such as lethargy) while others are far more noticeable (vomiting, seizures). Keep an
- Excessive panting or difficulty breathing: If your dog is panting incessantly or struggling to breathe, this could be an early indication of heatstroke. While panting may seem normal at first glance, you should look for signs of dehydration as well. Is your dog's nose wet or dry? Are they able to focus? Combine this with the knowledge that excessive panting is a warning sign, and you should be able to keep a safe watch over your dog.
- Increased heart and respiratory rate: Dogs suffering from heatstroke often have a significantly higher than usual heart and respiratory rate. Extreme heat can even lead to increasing risks associated with pre-existing heart conditions such as a heart murmur. Keep a close eye on your pets and watch for changes from the norm. If you notice your dog is panting a lot more than usual, then see if you can give them a break somewhere nice and cool.
- Drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea: Excessive drooling and gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, can also be signs of heatstroke. This one explains itself. Despite the mess, it’s critical to get your dog somewhere cool. A bathtub or shower makes a great place that is relatively easy to clean up (as opposed to, say, having to clean that new rug you just bought).
- Disorientation or confusion: If your dog seems dizzy, uncoordinated, or disoriented, they may be overheating. This can become increasingly apparent if they are well disciplined but are suddenly confused by common commands such as “come”, or “stay”. Bring your dog to a calm, cool place where they can relax and recoup. Make sure they have access to water that is normal temperature.
- Lethargy or weakness: Extreme weakness or sudden lethargy can signal a serious problem like heatstroke. If your dog is having trouble getting up, can’t seem to move easily, this could be signs that their body is essentially shutting down and incapable of maintaining a healthy balance.
- Seizures or unconsciousness: In severe cases, heatstroke can lead to seizures or unconsciousness, which requires immediate veterinary attention.
What to Do if Your Dog is Suffering from Heatstroke
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from heatstroke, follow these immediate steps:
- Call your vet immediately! It is crucial to get prepared for a vet trip as heatstroke can have lasting effects on dogs and pets in general.
- Move your dog to a cooler area right away, preferably somewhere with air conditioning or at least shade.
- Begin to cool your dog down by placing cool (not cold) water all over their body. You can use a hose or a bucket and focus especially on the neck, underarms, and groin area.
- Monitor your dog's body temperature with a digital thermometer if available. You should aim to lower the body temperature to around 103°F, at which point you should stop the cooling down efforts to avoid risk of hypothermia.
When to Take Your Dog to the Vet for Heat Exhaustion
Even if you manage to bring down your dog's temperature successfully, it is vital that you take them to the vet immediately. Heatstroke can lead to complications such as kidney failure, irregular heart rhythms, and neurological issues that might not be immediately apparent but can be long lasting (if not permanent). Seek veterinary care at the earliest sign of heatstroke, and immediately if your dog is exhibiting severe symptoms like seizures or loss of consciousness. The sooner your dog receives professional care, the better their chances of a full recovery. At the end of the day, prevention is always the better and preferred method to treat heatstroke.
How to Prevent Heatstroke in Dogs
The best way to prevent heatstroke in dogs is to ensure that your dogs are prepared for the heat! That means as a dog parent, it’s your job to equip them for a hot day. Always make sure you have the following prepared in your yard, when you’re hiking, going to the beach, or anything that involves exposing your dog to potential extreme heat:
- If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog: Simple logic that can save lives, if it’s too hot for you then you shouldn’t be leaving them outside or taking them outside on long walks or hikes. The best way to prevent heatstroke is to simply keep your dog out of the heat as much as possible!
- A source of water to drink from: This could be a hiking canteen that has a dog bowl attached to it, the backyard hose, a dish of water (placed in the shade), or even a small water feature such as a non-chlorinated fountain.
- You can use unflavored pedialyte (emphasis on unflavored) in small amounts to help your dog with dehydration. This will not prevent fluid loss, but it can help alleviate some symptoms of heatstroke or heat exhaustion.
- Remember, never force your dog to drink water. Let them drink at their own pace!
- Be prepared to help drop your dog’s body temperature: A cooling vest, or, dog towels you can easily soak with normal (not cold) temperature water. You can pat down your dog and use these cooling vests or wet towels to help drop your dog's body temperature during extreme heat.
- Have an emergency plan in mind already: If you’re going hiking you can use your car’s A/C to help drop body temperature if you feel like your dog is beginning to overheat. If you’re out.
- Know your dog’s personality: Sometimes you have a dog that just LOVES to chase tractors, no matter how hot it is. Or perhaps it’s a dog that loves to play ball until they practically collapse? If you’re finding that what you really need to keep your dog from overheating is a way to calm them a bit, you can look into products like calming cbd bites. By providing a calming chew or bite, you can allow your dog to be outside with you a bit more during extreme heat events, but you’ll still need to act as a responsible chaperone.
Never leave your dog unattended outside during a heat event.