Heatstroke In Dogs – Silent Danger During The Dog Days Of Summer

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Heatstroke is a deadly condition that can kill your beloved canine companion, even with emergency treatment. As with most health issues, prevention is the key to helping your dog through hot summer days.

Heat, humidity and other factors that can kill
Most people know that the interior of a car on a hot summer’s day can be lethal. However, your dog needs you to know more than that to keep him safe in the deadly sun. Even on cooler days, the temperature inside an automobile can rise quickly as a result of direct sunlight.

Days when the temperature rises to 90 degrees or higher, especially with high humidity, are especially hazardous for your pet. Humidity interferes with animals’ ability to rid themselves of excess body heat. When humans overheat, we sweat. The process of the sweat drying carries excess heat with it. However, dogs only perspire around their paws, which is not enough to cool the body on hot days.

Your Dog’s Cooling System
To rid themselves of excess heat, dogs pant. You may notice that a hot, panting dog has an enlarged tongue. This occurs so that the tongue has an increased surface area to dissipate heat.

When panting, air moves through the nasal passages picking up excess heat from the body. As it is exhaled through the mouth the extra heat is carried along with it. Although this is a normally efficient way to control body heat, it can be severely overtaxed during periods of high humidity or when the animal is in close quarters.

The shape of a dog’s nose can affect the ability to regulate heat. Brachiocephalic (pug-nosed) dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke since their nasal passages are smaller. As a result of this smaller surface area, their  panting is less efficient for cooling. Overweight dogs are also more prone to overheating as extra layers of fat act as insulation, which traps heat in their bodies and restricts their breathing capabilities. Age can also be a factor in an animal’s tendency to overheat–very young puppies may not have a fully developed temperature regulating system while older pets’ organ systems may not be functioning at 100 percent, making them prone to heat-related damage.

Cracking the windows is simply not enough!
So where are the danger zones? The most obvious is your car. It can become a death trap even on a mild sunny day when the sun’s rays can raise the car’s temperature to well above 120 degrees. Never, ever leave your pet inside the car. If your dog can’t come with you when you get out of the car, then leave him at home.

Leaving dogs outdoors without shelter from the sun is just as dangerous as leaving them inside a hot car. Be sure they are not left in a cage in the hot sun, on a chain in the yard, or outdoors in a run without sufficient shade or air circulation.

Symptoms of Heatstroke
Symptoms of heatstroke include rapid panting, bright red gums, an elevated heart rate, warm dry skin, vomiting and a vacant or anxious expression.

beagle panting

beagle panting

Act Decisively as Heatstroke can be deadly!
Heatstroke is a true medical emergency – if not properly and quickly treated the condition can quickly result in coma and death. Have someone call a veterinarian immediately. An animal with heat stroke must have its body temperature lowered quickly. Most effective is immediate immersion in cold water. If unavailable, hosing the dog down with a garden hose may be effective. Ice packs should not be used because overcooling may occur.

The skin should be massaged gently, and the legs flexed frequently to encourage blood circulation. While this is being done, it is essential that the pet be transported to a veterinary hospital as quickly as possible. Often the pet will respond after only a few minutes of cooling, only to falter again. Once your pet is in a veterinarian’s care, treatment may include further cooling techniques, intravenous fluid therapy to counter shock, or medication to treat possible brain damage.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
If your dog lives outdoors, ensure adequate shelter from sun/midday heat. Outdoor kennels should be well-ventilated and in the shade. Provide plenty of fresh water in a bowl that cannot be tipped over and check/refill regularly. Avoid excessive exercise on hot days. If your dog’s coat is long or thick, discuss with your veterinarian if grooming should include a shorter haircut.

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