Phew! It’s hot outside! While humans sweat to cool off, a pet’s fur prevents sweating, thereby trapping heat which causes a rapid rise in internal temperature. Heatstroke can occur when a pet’s internal temperature rises just a few degrees, and can cause serious problems and/or death. While we have heard not to leave pets in a car on a hot day, there are several other situations which can cause heatstroke in any kind of pet. Do you know the signs and symptoms, as well as some emergency first aid to help if heatstroke occurs?
Your pet relies on YOU!
Keep them safe in the heat of summer!
by Jessica PeraltaYou’re walking along with your 80-pound, long-haired shepherd one warm, sunny afternoon. You’re breaking a bit of a sweat, but you feel just fine in your shorts and tank. But then you look over at Thor, and he’s not looking too good … his eyes are glazed, he’s panting heavily and he’s starting to pull back on the leash.
“But, it’s not that hot,” you say to yourself. “What is up with Thor?”
Thor is probably on his way to having heatstroke, which means he is quickly losing his ability to regulate his body temperature because of an overabundance of heat. Dogs don’t sweat the way we do – they only have sweat glands in their nose and pads of their feet. And their only real recourse when they are overheating is to pant, which sometimes isn’t enough. Add to that the fact that their bodies are covered in fur and their paws are usually in direct contact with hot concrete or asphalt … and well, it’s easy to see how they can get much hotter than we can – fast.
And since heatstroke can quickly lead to irreversible damage to major organs like the kidneys, liver, heart, brain – and can even cause death – it’s important to know the signs.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Heatstroke?
Normally, a dog’s body temperature is somewhere between 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, slightly higher than for humans. A dog will start to experience heatstroke at over 105 degrees. At around 106 to 108 degrees, organ damage can occur. Always keep a rectal thermometer handy for your dog and check his temperature if you suspect heatstroke.
If the overheating isn’t stopped, your dog’s breathing will slow or stop, and he can have seizures or fall into a coma. Obviously, we don’t want any of that to happen. So, what should you do if you think your dog has heatstroke?
My Dog Has Heatstroke, What Do I Do?
Whenever the weather gets warms, it’s a good idea to pay special attention to how your dog is doing. And know your dog: Breeds with “flat faces” like Pugs and Boxers, elderly dogs, puppies and sick dogs are at even greater risk of overheating. Things progress quickly when it comes to heatstroke, so as soon as you detect a problem, act quickly.
Get him into shade.
Since heat is the obvious problem, the goal is to get him out of it and away from direct sunlight.
Apply cool water.
Get water on his inner thighs and stomach where there are more large blood vessels, and on the pads of his feet. Use running water via faucet or hose and avoid submerging your dog in a tub or pool because this could cool him too fast and cause other problems like cardiac arrest and bloat. Also, avoid cold water or ice because these will cause the blood vessels to constrict, slowing blood flow and the cooling process.
Air him out.
To help cool your dog, you want to make sure the water you’re putting on him can evaporate. To that end, you’ll want to avoid covering him up with a wet towel or blanket because rather than allowing the water to evaporate, this will create a sauna effect – which you don’t want. Keep him out of enclosed areas like a kennel; instead, keep him near flowing air like from a fan or air conditioner.
Keep him moving.
Encourage your dog to stand or walk slowly while he’s cooling down, so that his cooled blood can circulate throughout his body.
Give him small amounts of cool – not cold – water.
If he gulps down too much water too fast, it can cause vomiting or bloating.
Give him some chicken or beef broth
…if he doesn’t want water, but avoid human performance drinks.
Get him to the vet.
Once your dog has started to cool down, you can stop your efforts and take him to his vet right away. You don’t want to continue trying to cool down your dog for too long or you’ll risk him getting hypothermia. Your dog will need a veterinary exam even if he seems fine because there may be underlying damage to his organs that you can’t see. Even if he seems normal, the effects of heatstroke can continue for 48 to 72 hours following the initial heatstroke. According to William Grant DVM, the most common cause of death following heatstroke is disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC) which is blood coagulating throughout the body; it can occur hours or days after the heatstroke episode.
3 Homeopathic Remedies for an Overheated Dog
In addition to cooling down your overheated dog and taking him to the vet, consider giving him one of these homeopathic remedies to help in his recovery.
Aconitum napellus 6C to 30C This is a good first choice at first sign of heatstroke. If your dog needs this remedy, he may also seem very fearful or anxious. Give three pellets every 10 minutes for up to three doses. If he doesn’t seem better, try one of the other remedies listed.
Gelsemium 30C If the dog needs this remedy, he may seem very weak and his muscles may be trembling. Give three pellets every 10 minutes for up to three doses. If the dog is not any better, try the next remedy.
Glonoinum 6C to 30C You may see vomiting and weakness. His gums may be pale, red or have a bluish cast. Give three pellets every 5 minutes.
Tuffy, a scruffy and adorably sweet little terrier arrived at my hospital in a state of collapse with profoundly labored breathing, purplish gums, and a temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (the normal body temperature for a dog is 100-102 degrees). Tuffy’s well-intentioned family let him accompany them on a brief outing and, while they were in the store for a mere ten minutes, Tuffy remained in the car. The outdoor temperature at the time was 82 degrees, and the temperature within the car quickly soared to well above 100 degrees. Tuffy is one of the lucky ones. He survived his episode of heatstroke without any lingering complications and has gone home to rejoin his grateful (and more knowledgeable) family. Most patients with heatstroke don’t fare nearly so well. I invite you to share Tuffy’s story with others with hopes of preventing a needless tragedy.
Dog Days of Summer
Some of us take “dog days of summer” literally – we want to go everywhere accompanied by our beloved canine companions! As tempting as this may be, keep in mind that when temperatures are soaring your dog’s well being is best served by staying home. Heat has the potential to be hazardous to your dog’s health.
Dogs are incapable of significant sweating – their only sweat glands are located on the undersides of their paws. The major mechanism by which dogs dissipate heat is by panting, but this cooling system is easily overwhelmed when the temperature climbs. Panting becomes even less effective in humid conditions or for dogs with underlying respiratory tract ailments (collapsing trachea, laryngeal paralysis, lung diseases). Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and others I lovingly refer to as “smoosh-faced” breeds readily overheat because of their unique upper respiratory tract anatomy.
What happens when dogs get too hot? The result is heatstroke, a life threatening condition. Symptoms of heatstroke tend to occur abruptly and can include increased heart rate, labored breathing, weakness, collapse, purplish gum color, and even seizures and coma. Of all the “summertime diseases” veterinarians dread heatstroke the most because we know that, even with aggressive therapy, many heatstroke victims will succumb to organ damage and death.
Most cases of canine heatstroke are a result of confinement in cars. Perhaps the vehicle was parked in the shade, but the sun shifted, or a well-intentioned person thought that leaving the windows cracked or returning to the car quickly would be a safe bet. Overactivity in the heat is another common cause of heatstroke. For some dogs the desire to chase the ball trumps all else, and the person throwing the ball doesn’t recognize when it’s time to quit.
If you suspect your dog has or is on the verge of heatstroke, spend just a few minutes cooling him off with cool, not cold, water from a hose or covering him with towels soaked in cool water. Then get to the closest veterinary hospital as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence – the earlier heatstroke is treated, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Knowledge is power when it comes to preventing heatstroke. Here are some pointers to help keep your best buddy safe during the hot summer months:
– Never leave your dog inside the car on warm or hot days. A panting dog in an enclosed space quickly creates a muggy greenhouse environment that can quickly cause heatstroke. Even with the windows down, temperatures inside a car can rise to 120 degrees or more. If you happen upon a dog confined in a car on a hot day, find the owner of the vehicle or contact a police officer – whichever will most rapidly liberate the dog from danger. If the dog is clearly in trouble and help is not quickly forthcoming, it is appropriate to break a car window.
– Exercise your dog early in the morning or during evening hours to avoid the heat of the day.
– Allow for plenty of rest and water breaks during play activity and exercise. Your dog may not know his limits and will continue to enthusiastically chase the Frisbee even when his internal thermometer is getting ready to blow a fuse.
– Keep your dog indoors, ideally in air conditioning, on very hot days.
– If your dog is left outside, be sure he has plenty of shade and provide him with access to a sprinkler, wading pool, or sand pit soaked with water.
– If it’s necessary to transport your dog by airplane during the summer months, schedule your flight for nighttime or early morning. Check with the airlines to find out whether or not the cargo hold is temperature controlled.
Best wishes to you and your four-legged family members for abundant good health,
Dr. Nancy Kay
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award