Unlike humans, dogs do not sweat when they get hot. Instead, they pant, but this is not effective when the outside air is about the same as their body temperature. Panting can only help so much to lower a dog’s body temperature. Once a dog’s body temperature exceeds 104 degrees, heat stroke has occurred.
Thousands of dogs suffer from heat stroke each year, but it is no laughing matter. Although heat stroke can take hours before it becomes deadly, some extreme cases can lead to death in as little as 20 minutes without prompt medical attention.
The following pose an increased risk that a dog will suffer from heat stroke:
- Being a Pekingese, Boston terrier, Shar Pei, boxer, pug or bulldog
- Being a dog that is used to cool climates, such as a Husky, Newfoundland or Malamute
- Being a dog with a double coat, such as a German Shepherd, Old English Sheepdog or collie
- Being very young or very old
- Being obese
- Having long and/or dark-colored fur
- Locking a dog in a car in hot weather
- Exercising excessively in hot weather
- Being left outside without water or shade in hot weather
- Living in hot and humid climates
- Having breathing problems caused a lung or heart disease
- Spending a lot of time on hot surfaces such as asphalt or concrete
- Having heart disease or hyperthyroidism
- Having previously suffered from heat stroke
Excessive panting, foaming at the month and breathing difficulties are the first signs of heat stroke. The dog may also become anxious and whiny. The tongue will turn bright red. The dog’s saliva thickens and vomiting occurs. As the dog’s body temperature rises toward 110 degrees, shock sets in. The lips turn gray, bloody diarrhea occurs and the dog may experience seizures. Coma and death then occur without medical care.
Risk of dehydration
During heat stroke, dogs can quickly become dehydrated due to the loss of fluids from diarrhea and vomiting. The dog’s mouth and gums will become dry. The loss of fluids will cause the skin to lose its elasticity. As dehydration progresses, the dog will go into shock. The eyes will become sunken, and the dog may collapse.
The dog will require IV fluids in order to replace the lost fluids. In the short term, Gatorade and Pedialyte are also helpful.
Treatment for heat stroke must not be delayed. If the heat stroke is mild, moving the dog to an air-conditioned building will he helpful. Take the dog’s rectal temperature. If it is still above 104 degrees, cool down the dog by spraying him with a hose or putting him in a cool tub of water for several minutes. After he is completely wet, place him in front of a fan. Continue with the process until the dog’s temperature reaches 103 degrees. At that time, dry off the dog and discontinue the cooling process. Cooling down a dog too quickly can cause it to get hypothermia or go into shock.
If the dog does not respond to the cool-down methods, emergency care is needed. Take the dog to the vet as soon as possible. The vet staff will do several things to get the temperature to drop. They will administer IV fluids and electrolytes. They will also give your dog additional oxygen, if needed. There are no special medications that can treat heat stroke, but some medications may be used to prevent the complications of heat stroke.
The vet will also limit your dog’s activity and reduce food intake until his temperature has stabilized. The vet will monitor your dog continuously for several days. The prognosis can range from good to poor depending on how quickly treatment is started.
After the heat stroke episode, you should have your dog looked at by a veterinarian. Heat stroke can lead to swelling in the lungs, which can cause breathing difficulties. The vet may opt to inject your dog with cortisone to reduce the risk of this occurring.
Heat stroke can also cause heart and kidney problems, organ failure, blood clots, seizures and abnormal bleeding. These symptoms may occur days later.
You can prevent heat stroke by keeping him home in hot weather. Do not ever leave him alone in your car, even if just for a few minutes in cool weather. Temperatures inside a car on a 70-degree day can reach 100 degrees in a matter of minutes. Even parking in the shade can be risky, so don’t take that risk.
Always provide your dog with clean drinking water at all times, especially on hot days. Keep water bowls out of the direct heat, as the water can quickly get hot.
Avoid having your dog exercise on hot days. If he does exercise, allow him access to a small tub or pool of water that can swim in to cool down.