A favorite pastime for countless dog owners is enjoying the outdoors with their four-legged companion. From having a partner in crime at the grill to jumping through sprinklers to enjoying a day at the beach, the summertime is full of bonding opportunities for you and your dog.
However, being a responsible dog owner means recognizing how the heat can affect Fido. It is imperative that pet owners take the necessary precautions when spending any amount of time in the summer heat in order to prevent heat stroke. Heat stroke in dogs is an extremely serious condition that shouldn't be overlooked. Knowing the signs of heat stroke and ways to prevent it can ensure that you're doing everything possible to keep Fido safe during the hot summer months.
In this article, we aim to give doting dog lovers some helpful tips in order to make sure this summer is filled with awesome memories, not a scary trip to the vet.
What is Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is a condition caused by the failure of the body's temperature-regulating mechanism when exposed to extremely high temperatures. It is a form of non-fever hyperthermia and if not treated in a timely manner can cause the dog's organs to shut down. Heat stroke is typically associated with spending too much time outdoors during the peak of summer months. However, heat stroke can occur in other months if a dog is left in the car or without shade for too long.
What is Hyperthermia
Hyperthermia is an elevation in body temperature that is above the accepted normal range.
Heat Stroke vs Heat Exhaustion
Heat exhaustion occurs when the dog's body temperature reaches over 103 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if the dog's rectal temperature continues to rise and reaches 106 or higher, they are at immediate risk for heat stroke. Again, heat stroke is extremely dangerous and can cause the organs to shut down and cause the heart to stop altogether.
What Causes Heat Stroke in Dogs
Unlike humans, dogs aren't able to sweat out excess body heat. In fact, the only sweat glands your dog has are in their paws and these do very little for regulating body temperature. Instead of sweating, dogs expel the excess heat through open-mouthed, rapid breathing (also known as panting).
Typically, panting is enough to relieve the dog of the excess heat. However, when panting isn't enough, heatstroke becomes a real risk.
Heat stroke typically occurs in the summer months when the warm weather can become overwhelming for our four-legged friends. However, heatstroke can also occur any time of the year if owners carelessly leaves their dog in a car for an extended period or if the dog is left outside without shade and water.
Thankfully, heat stroke is entirely avoidable.
Dogs Prone to Heat Stroke
It is important to note that while any dog may be at risk of heat stroke, brachycephalic breeds are more prone. Brachycephalic refers to dogs that have a relatively short nose and flat face. Such breeds include:
- Boston Terriers
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniels
- Shih Tzus
Brachycephalic dogs are particularly sensitive to heat due to the shape of their skull affecting the sinuses and consequently affecting the respiratory system.
Additionally, dogs with thick coats or long hair, and very young or very old dogs are also at a greater risk of heatstroke.
Furthermore, dogs that are overweight and those with preexisting medical conditions that cause difficulty breathing or heart problems are also at a higher risk for heatstroke.
Finally, dogs that are extremely active such as working dogs or hunting breeds (such as shepherds, retrievers, and spaniels) are also at a substantially higher risk of heat stroke. It is important for these animals to get appropriate breaks in their workday and have a shady place to be able to retreat to for water and rest.
Identifying Heat Stroke Symptoms
Fortunately, heat stroke doesn't just appear out of nowhere. There are a number of signs and symptoms that pet owners should be made aware of. The first major warning sign of heat stroke is excessive panting. If you see your dog panting excessively, take them indoors straight away and make sure they have cool water to drink. If the dog at risk is not tended to immediately, the following symptoms will quickly develop.
- Increased salivation
- Excessive drooling
- Signs of dehydration
- Rapid heart rate
- Weakness and/or lethargy
- Increased body temperature (above 103˚ F)
- A reddened or pale appearance of the gums and moist tissues of the body
- Bright red tongue
- Bloodshot eyes
- Thick, sticky-looking saliva
- Production of only small amounts of urine/no urine
- Vomiting blood
If the heat stroke progresses it can quickly lead to seizures, sudden (acute) kidney failure, cardiac arrest, coma, and death.
Again, we cannot stress enough just how serious heat stroke is.
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms
Heat exhaustion is essentially a precursor to heat stroke. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive panting, increased heart rate, and a rectal temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Preventing Heat Stroke in Dogs
Thankfully, heatstroke can be prevented and should be at all cost. There are a number of things that pet owners should make sure they do and certain things to always avoid.
Keep Cold Water Available
Keeping cold water on hand at all times is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to protect your dog from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and consequently heat stroke. Many companies produce great and convenient collapsible bowls. Check them out here!
These bowls are great for vacations, walks around the neighborhood, and car trips. We recommend purchasing a few of them and making sure that you keep one on hand. Additionally, be sure to make sure you're packing enough cool water. On average, a dog will consume about 1 cup of water per 10 pounds of body weight per day. This is important information in order to plan ahead.
Ensure Plenty of Shade
Again, it may seem obvious, but providing plenty of shade is another important way to ensure that your dog has protection from the sun. If your dog spends a fair amount of time outside, make sure that they have a dog house, overhang, sun umbrella, or some sort of structure that will protect them on a summer day.
Keep Fido Cool
Additionally, keeping Fido cool in an area of your home is a safe and effective way to prevent them from overheating. A fan or preferably an air-conditioned space can make all the difference. Also, you may want to look into creating a DIY cooling pad for your dog. Pet owners can place ice cubes into a Ziploc bag and then place the Ziploc bag into an old towel or t-shirt. Your pet can safely lay on this t-shirt in order to cool down on a hot summer day.
A Nice, Cool Towel-Down
We also recommend keeping a towel on hand when spending time outdoors. The towel can be soaked in cool water and then used to wet down your dog. Additionally, having a spray mist bottle filled with cold water is another great way to ensure that you are keeping your dog's core body temperature at an appropriate level.
Furthermore, if you’re spending time outdoors buy a water source such as a pool, river, or even sprinklers, encourage your dog to play in the water. Of course, make sure that your dog is safe wherever they are playing.
Be Aware of Health Issues
Dog owners should always be aware of their pet's health condition and how it may exacerbate in certain elements. Health conditions start such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and respiratory diseases can often cause heat stroke to develop at a faster rate. Heat stroke is also substantially more dangerous to dogs with health issues. Taking precautionary measures is absolutely imperative. Even something as simple as a neighborhood walk in the summer months can prove to be too strenuous for some dogs with underlying health conditions.
Double Check the Weather
Another easy way to ensure that Fido remains safe and happy during the summer months is checking the weather ahead of time before planning an outdoor excursion. Again, be sure to not only check the temperature but the humidity levels as well.
Additionally, when you're outside, make sure to touch the pavement and see how hot it is. Protecting your dog's paw pads is something that all parents should keep in mind during the hot summer months. You may not realize just how easy it is for paw pads to burn, and trust us when we say that you want to avoid it. Injured paw pads can lead to a multitude of problems including infection, tears, and a long healing process. Make sure that you’re doing everything you can to protect your dog's paw pads from the hot concrete pavement. A good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t walk on it barefoot, neither should your dog. Pet owners can purchase booties to protect their dog's paw pads during walks in the neighborhood. These are especially important if you live in an area where grassy walking paths aren’t always available.
Staying Alert = Saving a Life
We’ve all heard the phrase, “if you see something, say something.“ It can truly save a life. If you see a dog in a hot car and you believe that he is any sort of danger, write down the make and model of the car and the type of dog. Location security and have the information paged over a loudspeaker at wherever you are (grocery store, shopping mall, etc.). If you are unable to find the dog’s owner, a phone call to law enforcement would be the next step. Remember, time is of the essence. Every minute that passes puts Fido in even more danger. Trust your instincts. It can make a world of difference.
Finally, another easy way to make sure that your dog is staying safe is to plan ahead. If you’re traveling, make sure that Fido is in a well ventilated and safe crate or kennel. When you’re outdoors, always make sure that you have plenty of water and shade. These small things can prove to be the difference between life and death when it comes to heat stroke.
There are also things that pet owners should ensure that they never do in order to protect Fido.
Leave Fido in the Car
Never, ever leave your dog in a parked car. We cannot stress this enough. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. It does not matter if you are parked in the shade or only going into the store for a handful of minutes. The car is temperature can quickly reach 140° without air-conditioning. Any length of time in these conditions can prove to be deadly.
Over Do It With Exercise
Additionally, keep strenuous exercise and all physical activity short and sweet on hot days. Remember, all dogs can experience heat stroke. However, long-haired dogs and brachycephalic dogs are even more likely to suffer. There’s no need to exercise excessively on hot summer days. While you may think that you are keeping Fido healthy, physical activity in certain conditions can prove to do the exact opposite. Even when your dog is resting outdoors, it’s incredibly important to keep an eye on your dog for signs of heat exhaustion. Walks and play time should either be done in the very early morning or in the late evening when the temperature and the pavement have had a chance to cool off.
Muzzle the Dog
As we previously mentioned, dogs expel excess heat by panting. This is why it is so important to never muzzle your dog during hot summer months. Muzzling can prevent their ability to be able to pant and therefore cause dysregulation in their body temperature. In terms of an aggressive dog or a dog with behavioral issues, we recommend not taking them out in public settings when it is extremely hot.
Stay in Hot Places
Everyone loves a good beach day. However, in certain areas where heat is reflected and there is no access to appropriate amounts of shade, Fido can be in immediate danger. Again, this is a great time to invest in a sun umbrella in order to ensure that your dog is staying safe and cool.
Again, we cannot stress enough the importance of having a consistent, cool water source and the necessary tools to make sure that Fido stays hydrated and comfortable.
Heat Stroke Treatment At Home
Heat stroke is easily avoidable by following the aforementioned tips and steps. However, if the unfortunate event of a heat stroke, knowing what to do and acting quickly can save your dog's life.
First and foremost, get the dog indoors immediately. If the dog is unconscious, be sure to avoid getting water in their nose or mouth as it can cause choking and drowning.
Next, follow the following steps.
- Put the dog in the bathtub. If a tub isn’t possible, use a shower or shallow basin
- Run cool* water over the animal, covering their entire body. Pay special attention to the back of the neck and head, making sure these areas are entirely covered. *Ensure the water is cool, not cold.
- As you allow the tub to fill with cool water, you'll need to keep the dog's head elevated at all times. This will help prevent aspiration pneumonia.
- If a bathtub isn't available, find a hose or another water source to cool the dog down. Time is of the essence.
- Apply a cold pack to the dog's head to lower their core temperature. A cold pack can be something as simple as a package of frozen peas wrapped in a towel.
- In order to help increase circulation and prevent the risk of shock correlated with hyperthermia, gently massage the dog's legs.
- Allow the dog to drink as much water as they desire. At this point, the dog has likely lost a crucial amount of minerals due to the dehydration.
Note: It is imperative that you do not administer any aspirin or other medications. While many people may think that this will help lower the dog’s temperature, it won't. In fact, it will likely lead to further complications.
During this process, dog owners should be checking the dog for signs of shock. Take the dog's temperature every five minutes and monitor it closely. Continue with the steps above until the dog's temperature drops to around 103˚F. We also don’t want to drop the temperature too low, too fast. It is important to cool the pet but it is also just as important to get your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
After Stabilizing Fido
Once the dog is stabilized they will need to be taken to the veterinarian immediately. As we previously mentioned, heat stroke can lead to complications such as swelling of the brain, kidney failure, and blood clots. Just because the dog's body temperature is back to a normal level doesn't mean you're out of the woods in terms of unforeseen health changes.
On the way to the vet's office, it is important to maintain Fido's body temperature by keeping a cool, wet towel under the armpits as well as over the neck and between the hind legs. It is entirely possible for the dog's temperature to spike again even after it has been lowered. Avoiding this is extremely important. Additionally, keeping the ear flaps and paw pads cool will also help maintain the body temperature.
Be sure that the air conditioning is on in the car. Also, it is important to use cool water. We understand that many people might think that cold water will help lower the dog's temperature more quickly, but it can actually be dangerous for your dog in their fragile state.
What to Expect at the Veterinarian
When you arrive at the vet office, treatment will be geared towards rehydration and replacing lost minerals.
In most cases, the vet will administer intravenous fluid therapy and perform blood work. During this time the veterinarian will closely monitor the dog for any complications and changes in their health. These complications include (but are not limited to):
- Kidney failure
- Development of neurologic symptoms
- Abnormal clotting
- Variations in blood pressure
- Electrolytes abnormalities
Again, it is imperative that your dog sees a vet straight away. It's a visit that can save Fido's life.
Heat Stroke in Dogs: The Bottom Line
Trust us when we say that we understand how much your dog means to you. At Honest Paws, we are all dog owners and pet lovers. Therefore, we know that you want the very best for your dog and want their lives to be filled with the best memories. However, with that being said, lengthy outdoor events during the summer months can lead to dangerous situations. It is so incredibly important for dog owners to be aware of these possibilities.
By doing simple things such as always having a cool water source and plenty of shade, you can make sure that your dog is staying safe while enjoying the summer sun. Additionally, knowing when to bring your dog inside and recognizing times that it is likely best to leave Fido at home are equally important.
Furthermore, if heat stroke unfortunately occurs, it is absolutely paramount to know what to do. Knowing the steps to help your fur baby will likely be the difference between life and death.
Stay alert. Plan ahead. And enjoy summer safely with Fido.
Fabiana is a caring pet owner who also works as the Lead Editor of CertaPet. She enjoys helping other pet parents get all the furry-friend-related-info they need, as well as spending time with her precious pooch.