Heat Stroke in Dogs
Drenched in sweat, feeling exhausted…these miserable, devastating hot times were once referred to by the ancient Romans as the ‘Dog-Days of Summer’.
While we humans can manage our over-heated bodies with cool drinks & indoor air-conditioning, our hot furry friends have a much harder time finding relief from the sweltering heat.
Tragically, hot weather alone is not the only cause of a dog overheating.
What Is Heat Stroke in Dog?
Heat stroke is a term commonly used for hyperthermia or elevated body temperature.
When a dog’s internal body temperature goes above a normal temperature of 101.5 Fahrenheit (F), this is a fever and is called hyperthermia.
Generally speaking, if a pet’s body temperature exceeds 103°F (39.4°C), it is considered abnormal or hyperthermic.
Body temperatures above 106°F (41°F) without previous signs of illness are most commonly associated with exposure to excessive external heat and are often referred to as heat stroke.
The critical temperature where multiple organ failure and impending death occurs is around 107°F to 109°F (41.2°C to 42.7°C).
As you can see, heat stroke is a very dangerous condition that requires good insight for prevention and a necessary quick response for immediate care.
What Causes Heat Stroke in Dogs?
In the US, the most common cause of heat stroke or hyperthermia in dogs is pet owners leaving a dog in a car without adequate ventilation. The dog’s body temperature in this situation can elevate very rapidly, often within minutes!
In the UK, one study found that the most common cause of heatstroke in dogs was being exercised by their owners.
In any case, irresponsible dog owners are the primary cause of a dog’s over-heated condition.
Other common causes of heat stroke include being left in a yard without access to shade or water on a hot day, being exposed to a hair dryer for an extended period of time, and of course excessive or vigorous exercise during hot temperatures.
Excited or excessively exercised dogs are sometimes at risk even if the environmental temperature and humidity does not seem high. This is particularly true if dogs are kept in a poorly ventilated environment or a doghouse with limited air flow.
It is important to remember that dogs cannot control their body temperature by sweating as humans do since they only have a relatively small number of sweat glands located in their footpads.
A Dog’s primary way of regulating body temperature is by panting.
Certain dog breeds or dogs with a restricted airway such as brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced dogs such as Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, French Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chow, English Springer Spaniel, Greyhound, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier), are at greater risk due to lack of adequate cooling air flow.
Also, dogs wearing a muzzle for any reason can be at greater risk of over-heating and heat stroke since their ability to pant is restricted by the muzzle.
To a much lesser extent, infections that cause fever & seizures or severe muscle spasms can also elevate a dog’s body temperature to dangerously high levels.
Signs Of Heat Stroke In Dogs
Heatstroke in dogs is life threatening and can also result in very serious complications.
There are early signs of heatstroke that you can be alert to that may help you remedy the condition before things get too serious.
Early signs of heatstroke include:
- heavy panting and rapid breathing,
- excessive drooling,
- dry mucous membranes,
- bright red gums and tongue,
- skin hot to the touch,
- excessive thirst,
- increased pulse & higher heart rate,
- stupor or difficulty maintaining balance,
- vomiting–bloody diarrhea,
- weakness collapse, unconsciousness,
As exposure to excessive heat goes on–the dog’s condition worsens and includes signs of physical shock: pale mucous membranes with white or blue gums, very rapid heart rate, and a drop in blood pressure.
As the dog hyperventilates to try to cool down, dehydration becomes more severe, the dog’s pupils dilate, the pulse becomes more irregular, and the dog has muscle contractions & tremors; and the dog may become lethargic and unwilling to move; will urinate or defecate uncontrollably & quickly lead to total body collapse and becoming comatose.
How To Treat Heat Stroke in Dogs
Heatstroke therapy involves immediately trying to lower the dog’s body temperature. If you notice signs of heatstroke in your dog, it’s critical to stop any activity and help your dog cool down.
If you think your dog is developing heatstroke immediately move him to a cool area, preferably with air conditioning. At a minimum, move him out of direct sunlight and to a shady spot.
Safe, controlled reduction of body temperature is a priority:
- Pour COOL water (not cold) over the dog’s head, stomach, armpits and feet, or cool cloths may be applied to these areas. If using cool wet cloths, these should be continually replaced, or they will start to retain heat. Do NOT immerse the animal in cold water.
- Use a fan to ensure a continuous flow of air flow across the dog’s body to help increase evaporation and further heat loss.
- If the dog is conscious and able to stand, offer him small amounts of water to drink and take his temperature rectally if possible. If the temp is 104°F or lower, continue to offer small drinks of water. Take care not to give a large amount of water all at once, which can cause vomiting that leads to dehydration.
- If he’s unable to stand without assistance, is unresponsive, or is having seizures, first check for breathing and a heartbeat. At the same time, someone should call the closest veterinary hospital to let them know you’re on your way with your dog. At that time intravenous fluids, mild sedation and low-concentration oxygen therapy will then be used to treat heat stroke.
If the body temperature did not become extremely high, most healthy pets will recover quickly if they are treated immediately.
However, some pets may experience permanent organ damage or may die at a later date from complications that developed secondarily to the hyperthermia. Pets that experience heat stroke are at greater risk for subsequent heat stroke due to damage to the thermoregulatory center in the brain.
Prevention Is the Best Medicine
Immediate action and correct treatment are critical when it comes to heatstroke in dogs because it can mean the difference between a swift and complete recovery or long-term health complications.
With careful planning, responsible dog owners can still enjoy their furry companions on hikes and daily exercise–even on the hottest days of Summer. It’s up to you to be mindful of the weather conditions and limit your dog’s play and outdoor training sessions when the temperature soars.
How To Keep Dogs Cool in The Summer
7 Tips to Help Cool Down Your Dog in Hot Weather:
1. Never under any circumstances leave your dog alone in a parked car — he may miss you, but he’ll be better off waiting for you at home. On a warm day, the temperature inside your car or truck can rise quickly into the danger zone.
For example, on an 85°F Day it takes only 10 minutes for the temperature inside your parked car to climb to 102°F. In a half hour, it can rise to deadly 120°F.
Leaving a pet unattended in a vehicle in extreme heat or cold is a criminal act in several states and municipalities. Most statutes have rescue provisions that allow certain individuals, for example police officers, firefighters, animal control officers, and store employees to do whatever is necessary to rescue an animal trapped in a vehicle in extreme temperatures.
2. Schedule outdoor activities for the coolest parts of the day — In most places, this means early in the morning or after sunset. Try to stay in the shade during daylight hours, and no matter the time of day, don’t overdo outdoor exercise or play sessions.
Even on an overcast day or in the evening, a long period of physical exertion in hot weather can cause your dog to overheat. A good rule of thumb is if outdoor temps hit 90°F, your four-legged family member should be indoors where it’s cool.
3. Provide fresh clean drinking water at all times — In addition to overheating, your dog can become dehydrated very rapidly in warm weather. A good general guideline is that a healthy dog should drink between 1/2 and 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. And if he’ll be outside for any length of time, he should have access to additional fresh drinking water.
Adding frozen ice cubes to your dog’s water bowl is a quick way to lower water temperature for a refreshing drink.
4. Provide frequent rest periods & shade when it’s hot — In most cases, if being outdoors is unavoidable, then staying out of direct sunlight & taking frequent rest stops can be enough over a short time to keep a dog’s temperature from climbing to dangerous levels.
5. Avoid walking him on paved surfaces — Not only can pavement on a hot day burn your dog’s paws, but the heat rising from concrete or asphalt can quickly overheat an animal that lives close to the ground. Also don’t allow your dog to stand, walk or rest on hot outdoor surfaces like sidewalks or parking lots.
If you must walk her across pavement in the heat of the day, plot the shortest route and walk at a brisk pace. If necessary, carry your dog until you reach a cooler surface. If all else fails, dog shoes work to prevent burned paw pads.
6. Go for a swim or play in a sprinkler — A quick dip in the pool, lake or ocean or a splash in the sprinkler will have your dog cool in no time. But don’t forget to practice water safety and equip your dog with a life jacket if you need too!
7. Stay inside — Whether you are using ice water, a cooling fan or cranking the A/C, your dog will thank you for making the effort to keep him cool indoors when the temperature spikes.
Being hot and bothered is no fun for humans or pets. And in extreme cases, high temperatures can even be dangerous for your dog.
During the sweltering summer months make sure you educate yourself & recognize the signs of heat stroke in your furry home companions — it can be the difference between life and death for them! Also remember that dogs with short noses have a harder time cooling down, so if they get overheated it’s REALLY important to step in and help them out.
That’s why keeping your pup cool in the hot weather is part of being a responsible dog owner.
Curtis has been passionate about the health and welfare of animals since his first dog rescue.
After studying Sports Medicine & Biology at the University of Oregon, Curtis went on to excel in a career of Clinical Nutrition, later owning a health care supplement company serving private-practice physicians.
Known for his expansive knowledge of natural health and alternative medicine, Curtis believes that natural plant-based therapies can be applied to veterinary animal care which led him to study the science of Cannabinoid Medicine. His expertise in Functional Medicine led him to formulate a unique hemp-based canine care product, Canine Support Formula, fulfilling a dream to combine natural pet-care strategies with the new therapeutic potential of medical cannabis.
In reverence for his own dog, Parker, Curtis has dedicated his company–K9 Medibles–to improving the health and longevity of all dogs.
To learn more about Curtis and how K9 Medibles can help your dog, click HERE.