If you're burning up on a hot summer day, there's a good chance your fur-covered dog is feeling even warmer. Heat stroke in dogs is a dangerous condition that all pet owners should be aware of. Yes, even you.
The classic scenario that people associate heat stroke with is a dog who's left in a car, but it can also happen when walking outside on a warm day or in a yard without enough shade. Because this condition can affect any dog in any region, it's essential to know how to treat heatstroke in dogs along with tricks to help prevent this life-threatening issue.
What Is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog's internal body temperature rises above 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Dogs don't sweat to cool their bodies in the way humans do, so they can only use panting as their cooling system. But in warm weather or confined areas, such as the inside of a car, it can be challenging or impossible for a dog to cool themselves down.
Even if a dog tries to thermoregulate through panting, they just can't rid themselves of the heat in these situations. This leads to a rapid increase in their internal temperature, which can damage organs, interfere with blood clotting, and ultimately result in death without treatment.
How quickly can a dog develop heat stroke? All it takes is 10 minutes (or less, in some cases) for a dog's temperature to rise to a dangerous level.
Causes of Heat-Related Illnesses
Heat stroke is usually viewed as a summertime danger, but it can occur any time of year. Even if it doesn't feel particularly hot out, any sudden change in the surrounding temperature can trigger heat stroke. That means your dog could be at risk of overheating on the first warm day of spring, even if the temperature isn't really high. Specific scenarios that can cause heat stroke include:
- Confinement within a vehicle, regardless of the outside temperature
- Being outside on a hot day
- Overexertion through exercise
- Not having access to water
- Being left outside without shade
- Exposure to a heat-producing dryer
- Being in a highly stressful situation
- Wearing a muzzle for an extended period
Dogs at High Risk for Heat Stroke
Any dog is susceptible to heat stroke. However, some are at higher risk than others. Flat-faced dogs, referred to as brachycephalic breeds, are more likely to overheat than other breeds.
This is because these dogs have even more difficulty cooling off than other dogs because of their upper airway anatomy. This includes the Pug, Bulldog, French Bulldog, Shi Tzu, Boston Terrier, Brussels Griffon, Boxer, Cane Corso, and Japanese Chin.
Dog with dark-colored coats, which readily absorb heat from the sun, are also at higher risk of heat stroke. Being overweight, out of shape, ill, older, very young, or anxious are additional risk factors for overheating.
Dog Heat Stroke Symptoms
Dogs suffering from heat stroke or heat exhaustion will show a few or more of the following signs. As the internal temperature rises and the condition worsens, symptoms become more severe.
Immediate Steps to Take for Dog Heat Stroke
If you believe your dog is overheating or experiencing heat stroke, you should take immediate action.
- Immediately move your dog out of the sun to a cool, shaded, ventilated area.
- Apply cool water to your dog's limbs and body. Spray water directly onto them, aiming to make contact with the skin through the fur, or place water-soaked towels on their body. Never submerge your dog in water if you suspect overheating or heat stroke.
- Avoid ice packs or cold water, which can cause vasoconstriction and actually do the opposite of cooling. Remember, a dog's temperature is above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so even lukewarm water is much cooler than their core temperature.
- If your dog is conscious and alert, you can offer them some water to sip. Never pour water in their mouth if they are unwilling to drink.
- Immediately head to your veterinarian's office to have your dog examined for further treatment.
- If you can take your dog's temperature en route, monitor it closely and discontinue cooling remedies once it reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit to keep them from getting too cold.
Actively cooling your dog on the way to the veterinary hospital can significantly improve their prognosis.
Even after your dog's temperature returns to normal range, you'll need to provide treatment to stabilize them and address any internal damage. How your veterinarian chooses to treat your dog for heat stroke will depend heavily on their condition. Even mild cases of heat stroke typically require intravenous fluid therapy to rehydrate them.
Some dogs, particularly those with obstructed airways like brachycephalic breeds, will need oxygen support. Your vet might recommend intravenous medication to treat the gastrointestinal tract or reduce intracranial pressure, and those who experience blood clotting complications may need one or multiple transfusions. Dogs who lose consciousness from heat stroke will need more complex treatment plans.
Tips to Prevent Heat Stroke
The best way to protect your dog from the dangers of heat stroke is prevention. Put these tips into action to keep your dog cool and safe all year long:
- Never leave your dog unattended in a vehicle.
- Ensure your dog has constant access to shade and fresh water outdoors and inside.
- Avoid over-exercising your pet, particularly when temperatures are high.
- In the summer, go for walks in the early morning or late evening (avoiding peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
- Avoid taking brachycephalic dogs for walks on hot days.
- Use water to cool your dog when engaging in outdoor recreation on warm days.
- Do not leave your dog outdoors on hot days.
- Use a well-ventilated crate for travel.
Dangers of Heat Stroke in Dogs
Heat stroke is a dangerous condition that can transpire very quickly. Even though it's most likely to occur on hot days during the summer, all dog owners should keep an eye out for the signs of heat stroke year-round. And fortunately, with intentional preventive measures, you can keep your dog feeling cool and comfortable.