I’ll never forget the day my dog suffered from heatstroke, it was the most frightening thing I’d ever seen. My family and I had been out walking on the top of a hill and we had got lost. It was very hot and my golden retriever suddenly stopped and lay down in the grass, panting rapidly. We were miles away from the car and unsure where we were.
Luckily we came across a water trough and we managed to get my dog into it, and cooled him down. My sister went on to find the car and we drove my dog to the vets, where he was kept overnight.
Luckily he was fine and released the next day, but I considered myself to be a responsible dog owner and had allowed this to happen. So what is heatstroke and how can you prevent it in your dog?
Heatstroke is a rise in body temperature, usually because the dog has been in a hot environment. Heat stroke is a very serious condition for dogs, as they cannot sweat as we humans do, through their skin, they release heat through panting and through the pads of their feet and nose. If a dog gets too hot and cannot release enough heat, their internal body temperature will rise, and once a dog’s temperature gets to 106°, the damage to a dog’s cellular system and organs may become irreversible. However, if you recognise the signs of heatstroke quickly, you can save your dog.
Signs of Heat Stroke
The following signs may indicate heat stroke in a dog:
- Rapid panting
- Dog is dizzy and disorientated
- Lying down and cannot get up
- Thick saliva
- Collapse and loses consciousness
- Dark red gums
- Tacky or dry mucus membranes (specifically the gums)
- Rectal temperature is high (over 104° requires action, over 106° is vet emergency)
What to do if you suspect heat stroke
If you think your dog might be suffering from heatstroke you must take immediate action.
- First remove your dog from the sunlight or heat, and put them in a cool place, preferably cool kitchen tiles or shaded garden area.
- Start to cool your dog down, by offering cool (not iced or cold water, this can cause the blood vessels to constrict and prevent the body’s core from cooling, making the situation worse) water to drink. Don’t force your dog to drink however, just leave the bowl within reach.
- Place cool cloths on your dog’s feet and pads, on the belly and around the head, and keep replacing them as they get warm. Don’t cover the body with cloths as this may trap in heat.
- Keep taking the dog’s temperature and once it reaches 103.9°F, stop cooling. At this point, your dog’s body should continue cooling on its own.
- Make sure you call or visit your vet right away, as even if your dog may seem to have recovered, it might have suffered some internal damage.
Preventing Heat Stroke
Prevention is always better than cure, so follow these simple rules to protect your dog in the hot weather.
Exercise your dog early in the morning or late evening when the weather is cooler, and avoid tarmac roads, as this could burn your dog’s pads. Walk your dog in shaded areas if you have no choice but to go out during the day, and avoid vigorous exercise.
Never leave your dog in a car on a warm day, whether or not the window is open. The car will very quickly heat up like an oven in a matter of minutes.
Make sure you dog has access to fresh cool water at all times of the day.
If your dog has long and thick hair, get it cut off in the summer months to make it easier for them in the heat, and remember that some types of dog fair less well in the heat, such as pugs and bulldogs.