LEARN TO PREVENT HEAT STROKE!
For more hot weather tips on keeping your dog cool visit
Web MD's Heat Stroke & Dehydration in Dogs
Preventing Heat Stroke in Dogs & Cats--How you can help!
Summer is supposed to be for fun with your dog, trips to the dog park or campground, playing your favorite games of catch and Frisbee. But caution is advised; too much heat or activity on a warm summer day can lead to tragic consequences. During warm weather dogs are at risk for heat exhaustion, or a more severe disorder known as heat stroke. Dogs are very susceptible because of the unique way the canine body works to control body temperature. Often owners are not aware that their dog is developing heat stroke until it is too late to reverse the damage. Understanding mechanisms of canine body temperature control, and recognizing the symptoms and treatment for canine heat stroke, will help keep your dog healthy, and your summer plans safe and enjoyable.
WHAT IS HEAT STROKE?
Heat stroke occurs when a dog loses its natural ability to regulate body temperature. Dogs do not sweat all over their bodies the way humans do. Canine sweat glads are only located on the pads of the feet and on the nose. In the dog, body temperature is regulated primarily by the respiratory tract through panting and evaporation of body heat from the mouth. If a dog's respiratory tract is unable to evacuate heat fast enough, body temperature will rapidly rise . Heat stroke often happens when a dog is confined in a small enclosed space, with poor ventilation and high temperature, such as a car. But heat stroke can also easily happen with vigorous activity and play on a warm summer day.
Humidity often plays a large role too. As heat and humidity rise, dogs become very inefficient at cooling themselves. They struggle in humid conditions to effectively evaporate out body heat through panting. As a dog runs and plays, the pads of his feet are unable to perform their task of sweating. Significant muscular activity will produce even more heat within the body. A dog that is constantly carrying a Frisbee or ball in their mouth is also blocking their primary route of releasing heat further decreasing their ability to cool themselves. Try to exercise your dog during the coolest parts of the day, early dawn or at dusk. Allow adequate periods of rest in the shade or in air conditioning. Be sure to provide adequate water.
Heat stroke can happen very quickly, deadly consequences can happen in as little as 20 minutes. In other cases it may happen more insidiously and may take several hours to develop if not recognized by an astute owner. Some dogs are more susceptible to heat stroke such as; very young or elderly dogs, breeds with very short noses (brachycephalic breeds such as bulldogs or pugs), dogs that are overweight or obese, dogs with thick or dark hair coats, or dogs with preexisting conditions such as heart disease.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF HEAT STROKE?
The amount of damage a dog sustains when stricken with heatstroke depends on the magnitude and duration of the exposure. The longer and more severe the exposure, the worse the damage will be. Early detection is critical. The very first sign might be unanticipated restlessness. Difficulty breathing and excessive panting will follow that may even have a fluctuating pattern that stops and starts. There may also be huffing and puffing, or gasping for air. Excessive drooling or "foaming at the mouth" usually develops. The inside of the ears may become red and flushed. The gums become dry and tacky, and later may become gray and muddy, or dark red. The heart rate becomes rapid. As the body temperature continues to rise, vomiting and diarrhea is often seen. The dog may walk in strange patterns, act dizzy or uncoordinated ,and seem confused or dazed. In the end stages of heat stroke the dog will become listless, collapse, be unable to rise, possibly seizure, or become unresponsive.
Normal canine body temperature ranges between about 100.5 and 102.5. In heat stroke, body temperatures often rise above 105 degrees. If body temperature rises to 108-110 degrees, severe and often irreversible organ damage to the kidneys, liver, GI tract, heart, and brain will occur. Body temperature can be accurately measured at home with a digital rectal thermometer and some petroleum jelly lubricant.
EMERGENCY FIRST AID CARE AT HOME
If you are seeing signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke in your dog there are some immediate steps you should take.
1. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR DOG! Recognize the symptoms of heat stroke and respond quickly!
2. MOVE THE DOG TO SHADE OR AIR CONDITIONING! Apply cool (not ice cold) water to the inner thighs and stomach where there is a higher concentration of relatively superficial, large blood vessels. Also apply cool water to the foot pads.
3. USE RUNNING WATER TO COOL YOUR DOG. A faucet or hose is best to wet down your dog's body. NEVER SUBMERGE a heat stroke victim in standing water in a pool or tub. This can cool the dog too rapidly, leading to further complications, including cardiac arrest.
4. USE COOL NOT COLD WATER. Don't make the mistake of using cold water or ice to cool the dog. Using ice or extremely cold water is counterproductive to the cooling process because it cause the blood vessels to constrict, which slows blood flow, and therefore further slows the cooling process. Do not try to dry the dog with towels or a heated blow dryer, let the water evaporate off the body on its own to cool the dog.
5. DON'T COVER THE DOG! To aid cooling, the water must evaporate off the dog! Never cover an overheated dog with a wet towel or blanket. A cool rag may be place on the neck or forehead, but do not cover the entire dog! Do not enclose the dog in a confined area such as a kennel. Air flow around the dog is essential to aid cooling and evaporation. Use a fan to blow air across the body.
6. IF THE DOG IS ALERT & STRONG ENOUGH TO STAND, ALLOW IT TO WALK A FEW STEPS. This will further promote blood flow and circulation. If the dog remains laying down, circulating blood tends to pool in certain areas. This prevents the cooled blood from circulating back to the core of the dog. If the dog is unable to stand or walk, seek immediate emergency veterinary care!
7. ALLOW YOUR DOG TO DRINK SMALL AMOUNTS OF WATER OVER TIME. Cooling the dog is the first priority. Re-hydrating the dog is the next step. But do not allow the dog to gulp excessive amounts of water rapidly. Offer small amounts of cool but not cold water. If allowed to drink too rapidly the dog may vomit or develop "bloat".
8. MONITOR YOUR DOG'S BODY TEMPERATURE WITH A DIGITAL RECTAL THERMOMETER. Avoid cooling the dog too much or too rapidly. Once the body temperature is down to around 103 degrees cooling efforts should slow. During heat stroke, dogs lose their natural ability to regulate body temperature and ironically hypothermia or low body temperature can develop. If aggressive cooling efforts continue, body temperature may actually plummet to BELOW normal, further damaging body organs and leading to shock.
9. TRANSPORT YOUR DOG TO YOUR VETERINARIAN OR EMERGENCY CLINIC AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! If heat stroke has truly occurred, much more therapy is needed to try to stabilize the patient and preserve as much organ function as possible. This is an emergency situation, professional help is needed! Even with aggressive veterinary care, often the outcome is still tragic and fatal. The sooner your dog receives intensive care, the better. Do not underestimate the damage heat stroke can do!! This is a life threatening disorder! By the time the body temperature comes down, severe and often irreversible organ damage has already occurred.
For more first aid tips for hyperthermia click on the links below.
VIN's First Aid Library-Hyperthermia, Heat Stroke
AVMA Heatstroke First Aid
HOW WILL YOUR VETERINARIAN OR EMERGENCY CLINIC TREAT YOUR DOG?
Veterinary care will continue the cooling process and will work to maintain normal body temperature, while avoiding potential hypothermia (low body temperature). Oxygen and intravenous fluid therapy is a must to support circulation and blood flow to the damaged internal organs. Repeated blood test monitoring of organ function will be needed over the next 72 hours to determine the extent of the organ damage. Other life threatening complications such as blood coagulation disorders (DIC or disseminated intravascular coagulopathy) may develop requiring aggressive therapy such as plasma transfusions. Severe gastrointestinal damage is likely with loss of the lining of the stomach and intestinal tract leading to ulceration, hemorrhage, and bloody diarrhea. Bacterial septicemia (severe systemic infections) commonly develop as a result of the damage to the intestinal tract. Referral to a 24 hour Critical Care/ICU Facility may be needed.
Please remember, heat stroke is a dangerous situation that requires pet owners to know the risk factors, recognize the symptoms early, know how to administer first aid, and realize that they must seek immediate emergency veterinary care. The longer you wait to provide heat stroke treatment, the higher the risk of death or organ damage. Prevention is the best medicine!