The “dog days” of summer can be deadly for dogs, or any animals for that matter, that are left outside for long periods of time in the hot sun and extreme heat. Pets are at risk for heat exhaustion or even worse, heatstroke.
Heatstroke is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Once the signs of heatstroke are detected, there is very little time for medical attention before serious damage – or even death – can occur.
Dogs and cats do not sweat through their skin like humans. Once they get hot, instead of sweating, dogs will pant to cool themselves down. Panting helps to circulate the necessary air through a dog’s body, and helps him to cool down. But if dogs “overheat” then they are at risk for heatstroke.
Signs of heatstroke in dogs may include:
- Hot skin; body temperatures of 40 – 43ºC
- Rapid, prolonged, or recurrent panting
- Twitching muscles
- Their stomachs may get upset resulting in vomiting and/or diarrhea (which may be bloody).
- Dark, red tongue and/or gums
- Sticky or dry tongue and/or gums, thick saliva; may froth at mouth
- Their heartbeat is much faster than normal
- Dog staggers while walking, appears disoriented or has a dazed expression.
- Unwilling or unable to get up.
- Dog collapses and/or loses consciousness
NOTE: Short-nosed breeds, large, heavy-coated breeds, and dogs with heart or respiratory problems are at a greater risk for heat stroke.
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from heatstroke then you must take action quickly but calmly!
- Move your dog out of the heat and away from the sun immediately.
- Begin cooling your dog with cool water by placing wet washcloths on the foot pads and around the head. Continue to use fresh, cool rags. Avoid covering the entire body with wet towels as they may trap the heat in.
- DO NOT use ice or ice water! Extreme cold can cause the blood vessels to constrict, preventing the core of your dog’s body from cooling and actually causing the internal temperature to further rise. In addition, over-cooling can cause hypothermia, resulting in other health issues. When the body temperature reaches 39 degrees Celsius, stop cooling. At this point, your dog’s body should continue to cool down on its own.
- Offer your dog cool water but do not force it into your dog’s mouth and don’t let him drink excessive amounts.
- Call or visit a certified veterinarian right away, even if your dog seems better. There may be internal damage as a result, so an examination is strongly recommended. Treatment may include further cooling techniques, intravenous fluid therapy to counter shock, or medication to prevent or reverse brain damage, if needed.
While you may be able to withstand the heat and searing sun, please know that your pets may suffer adverse affects that can be life threatening for them. Enjoy the summer but keep your pets safe and know what to do in the event of heatstroke.