Heat Stroke in Dogs

Heat stroke is a grave and life-threatening condition observed in dogs in the summer months. It’s more common in stray dogs but it’s observed in pets as well. As the summer months roll in, various veterinary hospitals witness a significant surge in cases involving pets suffering from heat stroke. 

Unfortunately, many pet owners remain unaware that their beloved companions are susceptible to overheating to the extent of it becoming life-threatening, often resulting in treatment arriving too late.

This blog aims to equip you with information regarding the causes, signs, and symptoms of heat stroke, along with insights into preventive measures for your dog.

Let’s start by learning what heat stroke is:

While heat stroke is more prevalent in warmer months, it remains a risk year-round, capable of striking suddenly and with little warning. Unlike humans, dogs and cats lack the extensive network of sweat glands found throughout our bodies for temperature regulation. Instead, they rely primarily on panting to release heat, with only a few sweat glands located in their paw pads and around their noses. Although these glands assist in heat dispersal to some extent, they offer minimal cooling compared to human sweat glands.

When our pets are unable to adequately cool themselves through panting, they are at risk of hyperthermia (increased body temperature) and associated heat-related illnesses. Hyperthermia occurs when the body's core temperature surpasses the normal range of 39.0 degrees Celsius.

Signs and symptoms of heat stroke in dogs:

There are a number of signs and symptoms of heat stroke in dogs to look out for. Signs and symptoms will quickly progress, becoming more severe and can lead to death. The early signs of heat stroke dogs will exhibit include, some or all of the following:

  • High body temperature
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Excessive panting or difficulty breathing
  • Drooling, often very thick saliva
  • Change in gum colour (dark red, pale, purple, or blue)

As the condition worsens, signs and symptoms progress to include:

  • Vomiting or diarrhoea (possibly with blood)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lethargy or collapse
  • Dizziness – are they struggling to walk in a straight line?
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

Why does heat stroke occur?

There are various factors and situations which contribute to why heat stroke occurs in dogs. These factors are mainly around environmental conditions, however, some pets are at increased risk due to their breed or pre-existing medical reasons.

Environmental factors

  • High temperatures
  • High humidity
  • Lack of adequate airflow/ventilation
  • No access to or inadequate shade
  • No access to or inadequate drinking water
  • Excessive exercise
  • Not used to hot weather. Dogs can take up to 60 days to acclimatise to significant changes in temperature
  • Pets left in closed homes/garages with no air conditioning
  • Pets left in cars. 

Breed and pre-existing medical factors

  • Extremes in ages (young and old)
  • Thick or long-coats retain the heat
  • Overweight and obese dogs
  • Large breed dogs
  • Extremely active, or working and hunting dogs, such as shepherds and retrievers
  • Brachycephalic breeds, otherwise known as short-nosed and flat-faced animals. 
  • Those who have a respiratory disease or breathing problems, such as laryngeal (vocal cord) paralysis, or a collapsing trachea
  • Dogs who have heat problems/cardiovascular disease
  • Dogs with a neurological disease
  • Dehydration

What do I do if I see signs of heat stroke in my dog?

Heat stroke is a serious life-threatening condition, which requires immediate treatment to increase the chances of survival. If you believe your pet is suffering from heat stroke and is showing any of the above signs or symptoms, follow these steps and immediately see a vet:

  • Remove your dog from the hot environment
  • Gradually lower your dog’s body temperature by wetting them down with a hose or bucket (avoiding their face), a fan blowing over damp skin will help in evaporative cooling. Do not wrap a wet towel around them as it will trap the heat trying to escape
  • Don’t use ice baths (this can cool them too rapidly and cause constriction of the blood vessels lowering their cooling ability)
  • Wetting down the areas around your dog can also help in lowering the ambient temperature
  • Offer water
  • See a vet immediately. Even if your pet looks to be recovering or you only suspect they have heat stroke, it is important to see a vet.

We hope this blog helps you understand heat stroke better and that you have happy, healthy and safe summers with your dogs.

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