As warmer summertime temperatures approach, it’s important to remember that dogs are vulnerable to injuries and illnesses related to hot weather including heat stroke, sunburn, and foot pad burns. The most dangerous condition is heat stroke, which can cause organ failure, seizures, brain damage, hemorrhages, blindness, convulsions and even death.
Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are dangerous situations for any dog. Heat exhaustion is generally the early stages when a dog begins overheating. You can often remedy the effects by taking immediate action to reduce the animals’ body temperature and prevent the more deadly heat stroke. Heat exhaustion symptoms can include diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, rapid panting, and the skin inside the ears reddening. Get your dog inside quickly to a cooler area like a basement or near a fan, and offer fresh water. Dampen the skin with lukewarm water and allow it to air-dry.
Heatstroke occurs when the dogs’ normal body mechanisms cannot keep body temperature in a safe range. Dogs don’t have the ability to sweat, and panting can’t fully cool a dog down when they are overheated. A dogs’ normal body temperature is 100-102.5 degrees, a body temperature over 106 degrees is deadly and calls for immediate veterinary assistance. Signs of heat stroke include rapid panting, a bright red tongue, red or pale gums, and thick, sticky saliva. The dog may show depression, weakness and dizziness, vomiting – sometimes with blood, diarrhea, shock, and coma.
Any pet that cannot cool himself off is at risk for heat stroke, but some breeds and dogs with certain conditions are more susceptible. Heart disease, obesity, older age, or breathing problems put the dog at higher risk, and for these animals even normal activities in intense heat can be harmful. Dogs with shorter snouts – like Pugs or Bulldogs – have a harder time panting out their body heat, and certain breeds don’t tolerate the heat as well as others. This group includes English and French Bulldogs, Boxers, the Saint Bernard, Pugs, and Shih Tzu.
What can a pet-parent do to prevent heat stroke danger? Be smart and proactive!
- When the temperature is high, don’t let your dog linger on hot surfaces like asphalt and cement. Being so close to the ground can heat their body quickly and is also an invitation to burns on sensitive paw pads. Keep walks to a minimum.
- Giving your dog a lightweight summer haircut can help prevent overheating, but never shave to the skin, the dog needs one-inch of protection to avoid getting sunburned.
- Provide access to fresh water at all times. Make certain an outside dog has access to shade and plenty of cool water.
- Restrict exercise when temperatures soar, and do not muzzle the dog because it inhibits their ability to pant.
- Many dogs enjoy a swim, splashing in a wading pool, or a run through a sprinkler in warmer weather can help bring body temperatures down.
- Never leave your pet in a parked car, not even if you park in the shade or plan to be gone for only a few minutes. The temperature inside of a car can reach oven-like temperatures in just minutes, often in excess of 140 degrees. That quick errand can turn into a disaster and could be fatal for your pet.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke, fast action might save their life. Remove the dog from the hot area immediately. Wet him thoroughly with cool to room temperature water and increase air movement around him with a fan. Do not use ice or very cold water: it can be counterproductive since cooling too quickly can trigger other life-threatening conditions. Allow free access to water, but don’t force the animal to drink: they may inhale it or choke.
Even if the dog seems to be recovering, take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Dehydration is just one complication of heat stroke that the veterinarian will need to address. The first priority will be lowering the body temperature to a safe range, and the animal may be given fluids and/or oxygen. A pet brought in for heat stroke should be monitored for shock, respiratory distress, kidney failure and heart abnormalities, and treated accordingly. Your doctor may take blood samples, since clotting problems are a common complication of heat stroke. Dogs who have suffered from heat stroke once increase their risk of getting it again, so steps to prevent it must be taken. For them, hot and humid days will always pose a greater danger.
If any of the organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, or kidneys have been severely harmed during the heat stroke, the consequences may be irreversible.
Dogs are by nature protective of their owners. Responsible owners must return the favor by protecting their pets from the dangers of excessive heat so they can safely enjoy the welcome warmth of the new outdoor season.