As summer temperatures heat up, it is important for all pet owners to be aware of heat stroke or hyperthermia. This is a very serious problem that dogs are particularly susceptible to. The only way that a dog can eliminate heat (and lower its body temperature) is by panting. They have very few sweat glands which are in their footpads, and provide minimal heat dissipation. In very hot weather when panting is not enough to cool them down, their body temperature can rise quickly; this can be fatal if not recognized and corrected rapidly. Brachycephalic (“squished faced”) breeds like Pugs, Shi Tzus, French & English Bulldogs, Boxers, etc. are at high risk because they cannot pant efficiently. Other dogs that are predisposed to hyperthermia are those with thick fur, or those suffering from medical conditions such as laryngeal paralysis and obesity. In addition, dogs that are used to constant outdoor exercise and playtime (including working dogs like Labradors, Springer Spaniels, etc.) should be closely monitored for signs of overheating on especially hot days.

Things to watch out for with heat stroke:

  • Excessive panting
  • Signs of discomfort
  • Signs of disorientation or lethargy or abnormal gait
  • Extremely high body temperature

What to do immediately if heat stroke is suspected:

  1. Remove the dog out of the sun into a cool environment.
  2. Put the dog in the bathtub and run cool (not cold) water over your pet, especially the back of the head and neck.
  3. Carefully fill up the bathtub as you are showering the dog. It is very important to ensure that the dog’s head is elevated and that the water is not entering into the nose or mouth to avoid the risk of aspiration pneumonia.
  4. If it is difficult to get the dog into the bathtub, then use a garden hose outside for cooling down.
  5. Apply a cold pack to the dogs head to help lower the body temperature.
  6. Massage the legs. Vigorous rubbing can help with circulation and reduce the risk of shock.
  7. Allow the dog to drink as much cool or cold water as it wants. This will allow internal cooling and help bring the temperature down. Adding a pinch of salt will help replace some of the electrolytes the dog loses through panting.

Regardless of whether the dog is unconscious, appears fully recovered or is only mildly affected, the following steps should be taken:
Take the temperature (rectally) every 5 minutes while continuing to cool the dog down with water until the temperature is below 103 degrees. Note that normal temperature for a dog is between 99.0 & 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the temperature drops below 103, you can discontinue the cool baths and dry off the dog. Ideally, you want the temperature to remain around 100 degrees.

If the dog is unresponsive, lethargic or appears disoriented, or won’t drink water, immediately go to your local emergency veterinary clinic. Heat stroke can result in many catastrophic problems, including brain swelling, kidney failure, and abnormal clotting of blood. As you drive to the veterinarian keep the windows open and the air conditioner on.

Veterinary care will mostly consist of replacing fluids and electrolytes, usually intravenously. The clinic will also monitor for secondary complications such as kidney failure, abnormal blood clotting, changes in blood pressure and electrolyte abnormalities. Some dogs will also develop neurologic symptoms due to heat stroke that need to be watched closely.

Heat stroke can be easily prevented by avoiding exposure of your dog to hot and humid conditions. While traveling in the car, ensure that there is good ventilation by placing the dog in an open-wired cage or an open basket restraint. Never leave your dog in the car with the windows closed, even in shade! During play times make sure that the area is well ventilated with access to plenty of water and shady spots.

Wishing all of you a safe and happy summer!
Kim Cork

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