Dog Heatstroke – What Are the Signs? What Are the Dangers?

Dog heatstroke is a dangerous condition that can affect any and every dog in the summer months. With the Northern Hemisphere summer just around the corner, it’s the ideal time to find out how to care for your dog over the next few months.

Dog heatstroke is when your dog gets too hot, and it’s core temperature rises. Like humans, dogs have evolved to keep their own body temperature within a relatively narrow band. If a dog starts to over-heat, several vital organs are in danger of shutting down, particularly kidneys, brain and heart.

A hot dog!

Dogs do not sweat, like humans, to cool down. In fact, lack of body hair and the ability to sweat were the main factors that allowed early humans in Africa to literally run an animal to death.

Humans could not run as fast as a gazelle, for example, but they could run for hours, tracking and chasing the prey, while the animal could only run fast for short periods of time, and would have to stop to pant and cool down.

This gave the human hunters time to catch up, forcing the animal to start running again, and eventually over-heating.

Your dog is also covered with fur, and cannot sweat to cool down. Dogs have to rely on quick, shallow breathing to vent heat out of their bodies. This works reasonably well up to a point, as long as the dog is not exposed to extreme heat.

Dogs CAN sweat a little bit, through their paws, but the heat loss generated is very small, and doesn’t help with lowering the dog’s core temperature.

Dog Heatstroke

Dog Cooling Vest

Dog Cooling Vest – can be used on other pets too!

A dog cooling vest is easy to use, and is designed to deep pets cool in hot weather through natural evaporation, cooling and heat reflection

But how can you tell if your dog has heatstroke? And how can you prevent dog heatstroke? Read on to find out!

Here are the main signs of dog heatstroke;

  •  Excessive panting. We all know that dogs pant in warm weather, but when the dog is literally gasping as it pants, you should recognize that something is wrong.
  •  Your dog may become unresponsive, for example when you call its name. Instead of looking at you as normal, your dog may ignore you.
  • Restlessness. On top of heavy panting and ignoring you, the dog may seem restless, wandering around, unable to find a place to settle.
  •  Lack of coordination. As the heat builds, the next sign is that your dog may start to lose coordination, staggering a bit as it wanders around, maybe bumping into walls.
  •  Next, the dog’s gums and/or tongue may change color, to blue or bright red. Things are getting serious now.
  •  Your dog may vomit or experience diarrhoea.
  •  Finally, your dog may collapse, and may experience convulsions.
Dog heatstroke

ALL dogs are at risk of developing dog heatstroke if they are exposed to excessive heat, BUT some dogs and certain breeds are more at risk than others.

  •  Dogs that are overweight are more at risk. The extra bulk in the dog means there is a “hot center” with a lot of insulating layers. As opposed to a thin dog, like a greyhound, which can shed heat efficiently.
  •  Dog breeds with a long-hair or thick coat. These breeds have evolved to withstand cold temperatures, and their coats are long/thick/shaggy to help retain heat. Just the opposite of what you want when it’s hot! For example, the German Shepherd, the Chow-Chow, the White Swiss Shepherd Dog, and the Bergamasco.
  •  Dog breeds with a short nose and a flat face, which means there is less surface area inside the nose and mouth for heat loss during panting. Basically, these dogs can’t breath as well as other breeds, which means they can’t shed heat very well. The technical term for these dogs is “brachycephalic”. Breeds include Pugs, Boxers, and Bulldogs.
  •  Old dogs and very young dogs. Their circulation and lungs are less able to shed excess heat.
  •  Active breeds such as hunting dog breeds and working dogs. Although these breeds are evolved to shed heat efficiently due to their working role, if they are worked hard during hot weather, they can quickly develop dog heatstroke.

What Conditions can Lead To Dog Heatstroke?

Obviously, hot weather is a factor, but there are certain conditions that make the risk of heatstroke even higher.

  • High humidity. It’s not just hot weather, it’s the relative humidity too, as high humidity severely reduces the heat-loss effect of your dog panting.
  •  Lack of shade. If your dog is exposed to direct sun during hot conditions, his skin temperature will be several degrees higher than if he had some shade.
  •  Leaving your dog in the car – even with the windows down. This is the WORST condition for a dog, because a car is like a greenhouse. It magnifies the outside temperature by 1.5, meaning if it’s 70 degrees F outside, it could get to over 100 degrees INSIDE the car within 30 minutes.

Dog heatstroke

What Should You Do If Your Dog Shows Signs Of Heatstroke?

  •  First, move your dog to somewhere cooler, such as an air-conditioned room, in front of a fan or even just into some shade.
  •  If your dog is conscious, try offering some clean, cool water to drink.
  •  If you have access to a water source, such as a hose, a kid’s paddling pool or even just a tap and some towels, get your dog wet! Be careful to avoid the dog’s head, in case the dog inhales water in it’s confused state.

If you have a garden hose, or can get the animal into your shower at home, give him a good soaking with room-temperature water – NOT cold, as the shock can also be dangerous. The aim is to get your dog’s coat wet, so that it loses heat as the water evaporates.

  •  Get your dog to a vet as quickly as possible if it doesn’t respond to the first 3 treatments.

How To Prevent Dog Heatstroke

As the old saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure”, and this is also true for dog heatstroke. Here are some suggestions for preventing your dog over-heating;

  •  When it’s hot weather, limit your dog’s activity – don’t take it for a 10 mile run in 90 degree heat!
  •  Make sure your dog can find some shade to lie in, to  avoid the direct sun. AND if you’re leaving your dog for a while, remember how the sun moves round, and be sure that there will always be enough shade.
  • Be sure that there is enough clean, cool water for your dog to drink.
  •  NEVER leave your dog in a parked car, even if you have parked in the shade and left a window down. A car is like a greenhouse, and magnifies the outside temperature within 10 minutes. This a very dangerous situation for a dog.
  • If your dog has a long, thick coat, maybe consider getting it’s coat trimmed for summer, to allow better cooling.

Below is a video of a vet testing car temperatures, with the windows open.

  •  If you can, let your dog have a swim or a paddle in a pond, pool or even the sea, or maybe play with the garden sprinkler to get wet. This cools your dog off very quickly.
  •  If you want to take your dog out for a walk, do it early in the morning or late evening, when the temperature is cooler.
Dog heatstroke

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