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How to Prevent, Recognize and Treat Heat Stroke in Dogs

Who doesn't love spending time in the great outdoors during the summer? It's made even better by having the company of our dogs. Dogs, unfortunately, don't have easy ways of cooling off on hot summer days and can be at risk for overheating. They cool themselves down by panting and also have sweat glands in their paws that can help to dissipate heat. But these aren't always enough to keep them cool. Heat exhaustion can occur when the dog's body temperature rises above normal; should the body temperature continue to rise, he's in danger of heat stroke which can lead to serious medical complications and even death. Here's how to recognize the signs of heat stroke in dogs, risk factors, along with what to do if you think your dog has been affected, and ways to prevent overheating.

Risk Factors

Some dogs are more prone than others to becoming overheated. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Overweight and obese dogs;
  • Dogs with "pushed-in" or shortened faces, like pugs, pekingese, boxes, and bulldogs;
  • Very young and very old dogs;
  • Dogs with underlying medical conditions, especially those to do with their heart, lungs, and or respiratory systems;
  • Dogs who are less able to tolerant heat (eg. dogs with heavy coats who live in hot climates);
  • Extremely active or working dogs who are constantly on-the-move;
  • Dogs who have previously experienced heat stroke or exhaustion.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Dogs

Common symptoms include:

  • Heavy panting with excessive drooling;
  • A bright red (or sometimes blue) tongue;
  • Glazed or unfocused eyes;
  • Staggering or uncoordinated movements;
  • Tacky gums;
  • Rapid heart rate;
  • Irregular heart beat;
  • Lethargy;
  • Unresponsiveness (in dogs that are normally responsive);
  • Losing consciousness.

How to Care for a Dog with Heat Exhaustion

Immediately remove your dog from the heat and into a cool, quiet area indoors, or in the shade if you are outdoors. Then:

  • Run cool water over your pet's body. If you have access to a bath tub, a lake, a stream, etc, place your dog there, making sure that his head stays above the water. Note, use cool water only, not cold! Cold water can make your dog go into shock. Gently wet his paws and ears with cool water as well. Be sure not to get water into his nose or mouth. You can use a garden hose if need be, but be sure that the water isn't cold, just cool.

  • If you don't have access to a suitable pool of water (or the only available water is too cold): place cool, wet rags around your dog's body. Place them on his neck and head; against his armpits; on his belly; and in the groin area, between the hind legs. Frequently change out the rags for fresh, cool ones whenever they heat up. Be sure to cool off the paws and ears as well by carefully wetting them.

  • Allow your dog to drink cool water if he's able and willing. Don't force it, but have it available if he wants it. If he can't drink, wet his tongue with cool water. Don't feed ice cubes!

  • Give your dog's legs a brisk rub. Doing so will help his circulation and help prevent him from going into shock.

Don't give your pet any medication unless advised to do so by your vet.

Following Up With Veterinary Care

Once the immediate danger is over, it's a good idea to bring your dog in for a follow-up with your veterinarian, even if he seems fully recovered. Heat stroke can cause secondary issues that you won't be able to see. Dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and kidney problems are some examples of complications that can develop due to heat stroke.

Prevention

It's easier - and much preferable! - to prevent your dog from overheating then to have to treat him for heat stroke after he's already suffering. Here are some ways to help keep your dog cool.

  • Exercise your dog during the cooler parts of the day. Early mornings and late evenings are ideal.

  • Limit the amount of exercise on hot days. Don't allow your dog to over-exert himself. Remember that high humidity can make the heat feel much more oppressive.

  • Always provide a source of cool drinking water. Having access to cool water can make a world of difference to a hot dog! Freeze containers of water so that they will gradually melt and provide a refreshing drink for your dog.

  • Consider water as part of your dog's exercise. Take your dog swimming, or put up a sprinkler for him to play in. You can find water safety tips (and summer safety tips) for pets here.

  • Provide a source of shade. Shade can come from trees, from an umbrella (weighted down so that it doesn't blow away), or from a strung-up tarp. Any type of well-ventilated, shady area can go a long way towards keeping your dog cool and comfortable.

  • Don't leave dogs unattended in the car - not even if the windows are rolled down and/or the car is parked in the shade. If you've ever sat in a car on a hot day, you know just how incredibly hot it can get! Either leave your dog at home where he'll be more comfortable, or make sure someone stays with him in the car. Have cool water available, and air-conditioning too, if you can.

Check out these additional tips for keeping dogs cool this summer.

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