Heat Stroke in dogs
Dogs have very few sweat glands; instead they rely on panting to cool themselves down. Heatstroke occurs when they cannot lose enough heat by panting and their body temperature starts to rise. This high body temperature can cause damage to the internal organs, sometimes irreversibly. Heatstroke can become rapidly life-threatening, so it is important to know how to prevent, recognise, and respond to it.
Preventing Heat Stroke
- Avoid walking dogs when it is uncomfortably hot. This is especially important in short nosed breeds, as they have reduced ability to lose heat by panting, and often have partial obstruction of the upper airway which further exacerbates the overheating. Dogs with thick, heavy coats are also at increased risk, as are those with obesity and medical conditions affecting their airways.
- Do not leave dogs in hot cars – temperatures can rapidly rise to dangerous levels.
- Always ensure access to a cool shaded area with good ventilation.
- Make sure fresh water is always available.
- Cooling mats, jackets, and air conditioning can also be used.
Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs
Bright or dark red gums and tongue
Appearing lethargic or uncoordinated
Weakness and collapse
Heat Stroke Treatment
Move them to a cool, shady area.
Pour cool (but not cold) water over the whole body, or wrap a wet towel around them and put them in front of a fan. Ice water is not advised as it causes blood vessels to constrict excessively and can make the situation worse.
If they start to shiver stop applying water, as shivering will raise their temperature again.
Offer small drinks of water.
Contact your vet urgently for advice. Dogs suspected to be suffering from heatstroke should always be seen by a vet, but it is usually beneficial to start cooling them before the journey.
Once at the vet surgery, we will monitor their body temperature and cool them further as required. Depending on the severity of the heat stroke(and as long as the patient is not elderly) this may involve rapid cooling by immersion in cold water to cool them to a core temperature below 39 Centigrade as rapidly as possible. We would also usually administer intravenous fluids and oxygen therapy. They may need blood tests to assess levels of hydration and damage to internal organs.
Many dogs will make a full recovery if they receive timely and appropriate treatment, but there is a very real risk of death, so all steps should be taken to prevent it.