Heatstroke and dogs - Keeping your dog safe from overheating in the summer

Heatstroke and dogs - Keeping your dog safe from overheating in the summer

Health & Safety

As we come into the summer, keeping your dog cool enough can become something of a challenge. When indoors and outdoors are both baking hot and there is no respite from the heat during the main part of the day, it can be difficult to know how to best take care of your dog, while also ensuring that they get enough exercise and generally don’t suffer from too much disruption to their normal routines. Dogs do not regulate their body temperature in the same way that people do, and when you take that into account alongside of their thick, furry coats, it is no surprise that summertime and hot weather can pose a challenge for both dogs and their owners. Many dog owners have to deal with the very real threat of heatstroke or dangerous overheating during the hotter months of the year.

Do you know how to keep your dog from overheating during the summer, and how to avoid a potentially dangerous bout of heatstroke in your dog? Read on to learn more about heatstroke in dogs.

How do dogs keep themselves cool?

While people regulate their body temperatures by sweating, dogs go about things rather differently! Dogs do not sweat in the same way that people do, although they do produce very small amounts of sweat from the pads of their paws. The main way in which dogs regulate their body temperatures is by panting, which draws cooling air into the body to drop the core temperature, and also by drinking water, which again hydrates and cools the body.

Why does heatstroke occur?

Heatstroke is the name for the condition that comes about at the point when a dog is no longer able to regulate their own body temperature effectively or cool themselves down. This happens when panting or water intake is simply not enough, and can be due to dehydration, the surrounding temperature being too high, or excessive exertion leading to overheating on hot and sunny days.

What are the common causes of heatstroke in dogs?

Heatstroke generally occurs during the summer months, and dogs that are overweight or have a thick, heavy coat will generally succumb to heatstroke faster than other dogs. Dogs who are brachycephalic will also find it harder to regulate their body temperature than other dogs.

Some of the situations that can quickly lead to heatstroke in dogs include:

  • Too much exercise or vigorous play during the hotter parts of the day
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Being out in direct sunlight and unable to find shade
  • Bing muzzled and unable to open the mouth fully to pant
  • Being enclosed in a car, shed or other overheated enclosure where the temperature is hot and there is not enough fresh air

Preventing heatstroke in dogs

When the weather is hot, it is really important to keep a close eye on your dog and monitor how they are coping with the heat, and be prepared to make any changes that might be needed to help them to cool down. Some of the precautions to take during the summer include:

  • Not walking your dog or encouraging vigorous play during the sunny times of the day; walk in the early morning and the evening when the weather is cooler
  • Ensuring that your dog has access to clean, fresh water at all times
  • NEVER leaving your dog closed into a car, shed or other small space for any amount of time, even just a few minutes
  • Making sure that your dog can get out of direct sunlight if needed, and ensuring that they have access to cooler, shaded areas
  • If your dog is particularly furry or has a very thick coat, you might want to consider getting them clipped during the summer to give them the best possible chance of keeping themselves cool
  • Remember that some dogs, particularly those with white fur or pink skin may be prone to sunburn, and take this into account when taking them out in the sun

Identifying heatstroke in dogs

Even if you take all possible precautions and do what you can to help your dog to keep cool when out in the sun, it is important to be able to identify the symptoms of heatstroke in the early stages in order to take prompt action. Heatstroke can quickly progress to become a life-threatening emergency, and the sad fact is that every veterinary practice in the UK deals with multiple incidents of heatstroke in dogs every summer, and not every dog survives.

During the early stages of heatstroke, your dog may appear restless and generally unhappy, but is more likely to be extremely listless and lethargic. They will also be panting excessively and for a prolonged period of time, or panting recurrently without apparently getting any relief. As heatstroke progresses, their gums will become red and tacky, and they might be foaming at the mouth or salivating excessively. A high body temperature and elevated heart rate also accompany heatstroke in dogs.

Heatstroke often progresses very quickly, and can soon advance to confusion and disorientation, collapse, fitting or tremors. The dog may also vomit or lose control of their bowels and bladder, and may refuse water at this stage even if offered.

Heatstroke is a veterinary emergency, and not a condition that can be left to resolve itself. A dog can quite realistically go from apparently ok to unconscious or comatose within less than half an hour, and heatstroke often quickly becomes fatal.

How to deal with heatstroke in dogs

If you find or suspect that your dog or any other dog is suffering from heatstroke, the first thing you should do is contact the vet as a matter of urgency and prepare to take the dog to the surgery for emergency treatment. Upon finding a dog with heatstroke symptoms, you should immediately seek to remove them from the source of the heat and take them to the coolest place that you can quickly find. Then, work on bringing down the dog’s body temperature as quickly as you can by bathing them in cool water and offering water to drink. Make sure that the water is not ice cold, as this can shock the system, leading to further complications. Directing fans onto the dog, talking to them and trying to keep them alert can all help as well until you are able to get to the vet.

Remember that heatstroke in dogs can develop and escalate quickly, and that the ultimate survival and recovery of the dog in question depends on your fast actions; as well as taking what steps you can to avoid heatstroke occurring in the first place.



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