Dog Heat Stroke – Preventing Heat Stroke or Hyperthermia in Dogs

Understanding and recognizing dog heat stroke, in order to prevent dogs from getting overheated in the heat of the summer months and developing hyperthermia, is just as important as dog owners protecting themselves and their children from overexposure to the sun and heat.

When dogs are exposed to high temperatures, heat stroke or heat exhaustion can be the result, requiring immediate medical attention. Serious health results can occur in dogs from heat stroke, including death, unless detected early enough for the dog to receive needed care and attention. Hyperthermia in dogs is deadly serious.

Humans release heat through sweating through skin, but dogs release heat through panting and dogs sweat through their paws and nose. Dogs that are unable to release body heat effectively may bring irreversible damage to a dog’s organs and cellular system. Year after year, many dogs succumb to heat stroke and the dogs die when it could have been avoided.

Dog owners and puppy owners need to learn to recognize the signs of heat stroke and hyperthermia in dogs in order to prevent its occurrence. Dogs can become overheated and suffer from heat exhaustion or stroke very quickly, says Maura Davies, senior director of communications for the SPCA of Texas. A recent Dallas Morning News article explains the seriousness and life-threatening dangers of dogs and heat stroke.

“They can overheat so quickly,” says Davies. “We had a sad situation recently where someone had taken a dog running in the heat of the day. The dog got heat exhaustion and passed away. It was awful. It broke that person’s heart, and it broke ours.” Dogs owners who spend time outside running or gardening or exercising etc outside in the heat without getting enough water, perhaps during the hottest part of the summer day, should consider how the heat affects them personally.

Now think about how your dogs or puppies may be feeling while out in the hot summer heat without enough water, or being able to get enough shade or go inside the house anytime the dog would like to cool off. Just like dog owners can develop hyperthermia, heat illness or heat exhaustion, so can family pets and precious dogs.

Watch for signs of heat illness, symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, and know what to do if heat stroke is suspected. Some dogs and puppies are more prone to heat stroke or hyperthermia, so know the risk factors. Dogs being treated for heart-worm, dogs with fleas, very young dogs (puppies) and very old dogs, obese dogs, snub-nosed dogs such as boxers, pugs, bulldogs, Chihuahuas, Pekingese and some spaniel breeds are at a greater risk of heat stroke.

Side effects of heat stroke in dogs can include a breathing problem called laryngeal edema and hyperthermia (high body temperature). Hyperthermia can result in serious, life-threatening health problems for dogs such as kidney disease, bleeding, heart arrhythmia and seizures. Heat stroke is often seen in the summer months between May and July, but can last well into August or September in hot southern states like Texas.

Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs

  • Increased rectal body temperature of 104° or more
  • Vigorous, excessive panting, listless eyes and gasping for air.
  • Dizziness or disorientation – appearing as if in a daze or stupor
  • Listlessness: Lying down and unwilling (or unable) to get up
  • Collapse and/or loss of consciousness
  • Increased, thumping heart rate
  • Dark, tacky, dry or red gums
  • Depression-like symptoms
  • Thick salivation
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Dog Heat Stroke Treatment and Prevention

Just like humans, heat stroke comes on when dogs are not fully hydrated and don’t have enough shade for their bodies to cool down. Bring your pet indoors, preferably in an air-conditioned room and offer water, but do NOT force the dog to drink the water or attempt to force water into your dog‘s mouth. Call your vet immediately if symptoms continue to occur or if the dog passes out (faints).

Begin cooling your dog’s body temperature by placing cool, wet rags or washcloths on the dog’s body, especially around the foot pads and head. Do NOT use ice water or very cold water under any circumstances!

Using extremely cold water to treat heat stroke in dogs can cause the blood vessels to constrict, thus preventing the core of dog’s body from cooling properly and can actually cause the dog’s internal body temperature to rise even more. Over-cooling dogs can actually cause hypothermia, bringing on its own set of new problems.

Take the dog’s rectal temperature every ten minutes to gauge if the dog’s temperature is dropping to within a normal range. When the dog’s body temperature reaches 103 degrees, stop the cooling process.

Call your vet and take your dog in to see the vet right away for an exam, even if you suspect the dog is feeling better. Unseen, internal damage may have occurred without your knowledge, requiring a thorough exam and further testing for your dog’s health and well-being.

Canine Heat Stroke Prevention

NEVER ever leave a dog alone in a car, even for a “second”, while running errands or exercising etc, regardless of whether the windows are left open. Even if the outside weather temperature is not extremely hot, your dog’s body temperature can rise to dangerous levels within minutes, because the inside of the car acts like an hot oven.

Opt for shady areas during warm or hot weather days, and avoid vigorous exercise when outside. Always keep fresh cool water available for your dogs at all times to keep your dogs healthy and safe during warmer weather months. If caught early enough, some dogs recover fully from heat stroke, while others may require long-term treatment and suffer permanent organ damage. Some dogs do not survive heat stroke and unfortunately, die.

“Even if you have the windows rolled down a little and the temperature is in the 80s, it can reach well over 100 in a matter of minutes,” Davies says in the DMN article. “If you see an animal in a car, you can contact local authorities. In Dallas, call 311.”

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