Rising temperatures in Nashville and surrounding areas mean dogs are at greater risk for heatstroke – a dangerous and potentially fatal problem. Dogs can’t cool down as efficiently as humans do; their body is more designed to insulate them from the cold than to ventilate heat. Fortunately, there are relatively simple preventative steps you can take to make sure your loving pooch stays happy and safe. In this article, we’ll teach you about the risk factors for heatstroke (such as breeds, lifestyles, and activities that carry the greatest risk), educate you on signs and symptoms, and educate you on how to treat heatstroke if you suspect it in your dog.
Dogs with short noses (such as Pugs and Bulldogs), or dogs with thick fur (such as German Shepherds or Siberian Husky’s) are especially at risk for heatstroke because their primary cooling systems are impeded. Dogs that are obese, ill or have breathing issues are at increased risk as well.
Problems outside typically occur when dogs have limited access to shade and water. Your dog needs a cool and shaded place that they can easily reach to use their body’s cooling mechanisms, and need plenty of water to keep their system hydrated. Hot ground surfaces can be dangerous for dogs if they have no means of avoidance.
Dogs who live a very active lifestyle are at risk as well, and should be closely watched for signs of overheating.
On an 85-degree day, it takes about ten minutes for the interior of a parked car to heat to 102 degrees. It can climb to 120 degrees within a half hour. Rolling the windows down part way actually has little effect on this – your car will act essentially as an oven. A parked car on a warm or hot day is an exceptionally dangerous place for any dog to be, even if the area’s shaded.
If you see a pet inside an unattended vehicle in extreme weather (for any period of time), we recommend immediately calling law enforcement.
- Rapid panting
- Red (or pale) gums
- Bright red tongue
- Sticky saliva
- Vomiting (sometimes with blood)
What to do
Fast action is imperative, as heatstroke can prove fatal in a matter of minutes. Before taking your dog to the veterinarian, take these steps:
- Remove your dog from the hot environment immediately.
- Take your dog to a place where you can run water all over them – ideally a tub, but a hose works if a tub isn’t feasible. Run cool (not cold) water over their entire body, paying extra attention to their head and the back of their neck. It is important that the water is not very cold, as this can actually cause severe problems that further endanger your pet.
- If your dog is in a bathtub, keep their head elevated as the water fills up. Make sure water doesn’t enter their nose, even when you’re rinsing them.
- A rectal thermometer is important for you to keep with you at home. You’ll want to take your dog’s temperature every 5 minutes. Once your dog’s temperature is 103 degrees, these cooling measures can stop, and you can take them to a cool, shaded place with plenty of drinking water. Dry them off with a clean towel. Apply a cold pack to their head (such as a bag of frozen vegetables).
- Allow your dog to drink as much water as they like.
- Vigorously massage your dog’s legs. This increases circulation, and decreases risk of shock.
- Call us (or, if you’re traveling, your closest veterinarian) immediately for further instructions. Heatstroke can cause dangerous secondary conditions that cannot be seen with the eyes alone.
Once at the hospital, your dog’s veterinary care will primarily consist of intravenous fluids and electrolytes. We will then begin examining your dog for signs of secondary conditions, such as swelling of the brain, kidney failure, clotting issues, neurological issues, and dangerous blood pressure levels. If signs of a secondary condition are evident, we will take immediate action to treat your dog. Fast action is everything when treating heatstroke.
We know this can be a scary topic – every year, countless dogs (many of them active and healthy) are lost to heatstroke. But if you make sure to follow this guide, you are taking an important step in protecting yours. Share with your friends, and please remember – we’re always here for you.