Dogs are less effective than humans at cooling themselves down. This means that they are at a greater risk of suffering from heat stroke, which occurs when the body temperature rises to a dangerous level – a rise of just 4˚C can cause organ failure and be fatal. Being exposed to an environment that is too hot and humid can lead to heat stroke, especially when the dog is exercising or playing.
While any dog may be affected, certain breeds are at a higher risk including brachycephalic breeds including Pugs, French Bulldogs and Boxers. Very young and old dogs are also at a higher risk, as are those who are overweight and dogs with thick and heavy coats.
What are the symptoms of heatstroke?
Typical symptoms of heatstroke include:
- Panting and heavy breathing
- Distress and agitation
- Dark coloured gums and tongue
- Drinking more
- Increased pulse and heart rate
- Increased body temperature (40˚C and above)
- Wobbliness and disorientation
- Loss of consciousness
What should I do if I suspect heat stroke?
You must act straight away if your dog is showing signs of heat stroke. You should move them to a shady cool spot (if possible) and immediately douse them with cool water, thoroughly wetting their belly and the insides of their legs. It is very important that the water is only cool, NOT cold, as cold water will constrict the blood vessels in the skin, actually making it harder to cool the dog down. Using water that is too cold can also lead to shock. Offer them cool water to drink and you can also use wet towels to help cool them down.
You should always then seek veterinary attention, even if they look like they have cooled down and recovered. This is because the dog is likely to be dehydrated, and heatstroke can also have severe delayed effects, so they need to be monitored closely at the vets.
How is it treated?
Treatment will depend on the severity of the heat stroke but will always include cooling your dog down and they are often put onto a drip to rehydrate them. Depending on how severely your dog is affected, your vet may choose to run some blood tests to monitor their organ function and blood clotting. In some cases, they may be hospitalised for a few days for close monitoring, since severely affected dogs can deteriorate and go into organ failure. If they are sent home then the vet will ask you to monitor them closely for any worsening such as disorientation, vomiting, bleeding or seizures.
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Will my dog recover?
Mild cases of heat stroke normally recover quickly with prompt treatment, and do not usually suffer long-term complications. However, when the body temperature has reached a very dangerous level, the dog can suffer severe effects such as multiple organ failure and problems clotting their blood, and hence heat stroke can be fatal.
How can I prevent heat stroke?
By taking the following steps you can help to minimise the chances of your dog suffering from heat stroke:
- Ensure your dog always has access to fresh water to keep them hydrated.
- Never leave your dog in the car, as it can rapidly heat up and turn into an oven. When the outside temperature is 26˚C the inside of the car will reach 32˚C in five minutes, and 43˚C in 25 minutes!
- Avoid walking your dog during the heat of the day, taking them out early in the morning or late in the evening. Instead, you can use enrichment games to keep them amused indoors when it’s really hot. A frozen Kong or Lickimat (these are both available in our Shop) are great ways to keep them busy and cool on a hot day!
- Consider using fans and paddling pools to help keep them cool.