Is it possible to have too much fun in the sun? For dogs, the answer is yes. In fact, it may not take long for a dog’s body temperature to reach dangerous levels, leading to heatstroke.
What Is heatstroke?
It’s a potentially life-threatening condition in which the core body temperature rises to around 105 °F or higher (normal temperature for a dog is 99.5 °F to 102.5 °F). When the body’s ability to cool down is overwhelmed, it can lead to shock and organ damage. It’s estimated that more than 40 percent of dogs with heatstroke die or are humanely euthanized.
Sizzling Temperatures and Strenuous Exercise
Everyone knows you shouldn’t leave your dog alone in the car in the summer. Even if you crack the windows or have a light-colored interior, it doesn’t really help. The temperature inside a car can rise 20 °F in just 10 minutes. On a 75 °F day, the car interior can heat up to almost 110 °F in just 30 minutes.
Temperatures can also get unexpectedly high in a yard with no shade, and dogs with no access to shelter can get overheated. Or when they are left unattended in a grooming dryer after being washed. Dogs can also overheat from strenuous exercise, and the effect is compounded when dogs exercise in hot, humid weather. Imagine jogging on a hot day while clad in a fur coat. That’s how sweltering it can feel for a dog to go for a run in the summer. But unlike people, who perspire to cool off, dogs generally don’t perspire (except for on their footpads). Instead, they dissipate heat by panting.
When the dog can’t pant enough to cool down, its body temperature can continue to rise to dangerous levels.
Although any dog can succumb to heatstroke, some breeds may be more susceptible.
Since dogs rely on their respiratory systems to cool down, those that normally have trouble breathing can be predisposed to heatstroke. That includes dogs with pushed-in noses (brachycephalic breeds) such as English bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers.
Dogs such as Labradors and golden retrievers, who can be prone to laryngeal paralysis (another condition that can make breathing a challenge) can be susceptible to heatstroke as well. Obesity, heart disease and lung disease can make it more difficult to breathe. Finally, very old and very young dogs may have more trouble regulating their body heat.
Watch for Warning Signs
The signs of heatstroke can vary from mild to severe depending on the length of heat exposure and underlying health problems. Signs may include panting, drooling, red or pale gums, staggering, collapse, seizures and loss of consciousness.
Consider It an Emergency
If your dog shows any of these signs, seek veterinary care immediately. If possible, quickly start the cooling process before you hop in the car by spraying the dog with room-temperature (not cold) water or applying wet towels to the body.
Avoid ice-cold water, because that can cause vessels under the skin to constrict, making it more difficult for heat to dissipate. The key is to cool the dog down gradually.
Do not submerge your dog in a bathtub. Dogs with heatstroke may not be fully conscious and could potentially drown.
Then, drive to the clinic with the air conditioner on or the windows down.
Treatment at the Clinic
Cooling efforts, including intravenous fluids, will continue at the clinic as they assess your dog. Because heatstroke can cause blood clotting abnormalities and permanent damage to many important organs, your dog likely will need to be hospitalized for continued treatment and monitoring.
Prevent Canine Heatstroke
To help protect your pet from this life-threatening condition:
- On hot, humid days, keep brachycephalic and obese dogs, as well as those with laryngeal paralysis, indoors.
- Take short walks in the morning or evening when temperatures are lower.
- Never leave your dog in the car during warm months, even for a few minutes.
- If your dog is outdoors, make sure it has access to shade and plenty of water.
- Any time you notice your dog panting excessively during warm weather, seek rest in the shade or air conditioning.
- If traveling with your dog to a hotter or more humid location, allow the dog at least two weeks to acclimate before increasing exercise.