Heatstroke in Dogs – Staying Cool in Hot Temperatures
We all look forward to lovely hot summery days when we can spend more time outside, light the barbecue, get the paddling pool out and sit back relax with the sun on our faces….. and dream…..sounds blissful doesn’t it? It is indeed, but not everyone enjoys the heat and for our canine family members, the hotter months can be uncomfortable for them and their least favourite.
Heatstroke sadly is far too common in dogs during the summer months and/or hot climates and can be a life threatening condition.
Summer should be a time for enjoyment for your furry family member too and it can of course be. By following the advice and information and useful tips below, we hope this will help you to prevent your dog over heating but also recognise the early signs of heatstroke in your dog should this occur.
What is Heatstroke?
Dogs can’t respond to the heat in the same way us humans can (although humans can also get heatstroke of course!) as they don’t have sweat glands all over their body like we do to regulate their temperature. When a dog’s temperature becomes elevated above the normal temperature range they enter a state of hyperthermia which results in heat injury to internal tissues. When heat generation within the body exceeds it’s natural ability to lose the heat, heatstroke occurs.
Types of Heatstroke
There are two types of heatstroke: exertional and nonexertional.
Exertional heatstroke occurs when a dog works or plays in an environment to which it is not acclimatised to.
Nonexertional heatstroke is caused by impairment of the dog’s ability to dissipate heat because of a decrease in airflow, lack of shade or water, or increase in temperature or humidity.
Dogs that are chained outside or left free to roam without access to water or shade can also develop heatstroke. Roaming dogs that have access to water and shade are unlikely to develop heatstroke, even when temperatures and humidity are high, because they can find the coolest area in which to lie down or the area with the most airflow in order to maintain normal body temperatures.
How Do Dogs Regulate Their Body Temperature?
When your dog pants, they will typically open their mouths wider and take quick rapid breaths to ensure that the air they are taking in is as much cool air as possible. You will notice that your dog pants after a good walk, exercise or on a hot day, this is perfectly normal. Panting is the best way for your dog to lower their body heat therefore regulating their body temperature.
Do Dogs Sweat?
Similarly to us, dogs do sweat. As mentioned above however they do not sweat all over their body like we do and can only sweat through the pads of their paws and around their noses. As sweat is produced it begins to evaporate, removing heat from your dog’s body and lowering their overall body temperature.
Sweating is a perfectly natural and effective way for dogs to regulate their body temperature which for a normally healthy dog should be between 37.9 to 39.2 Celsius.
What causes Heat Stroke in Dogs?
All dogs can have heat strokes, but some breeds are more prone to developing problems. Breeds such as Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and Boxers are notorious for overheating. Due to breed-related airway abnormalities such as small nostrils, long floppy palates and tonsils, and narrow, weak windpipes, these breeds of dogs can overheat very quickly.
However, Labradors and other breeds vulnerable to laryngeal paralysis, another obstructive upper airway disease, are also at significantly increased risk. Dogs with cardiac disease can be predisposed, as well.
In addition long and thick coated dogs can suffer more from heatstroke as they hair retains the heat.
Age and Health
Young and old dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke. Young dogs due to their energy levels and being over exercised in the heat. Whereas for older dogs often it is often due to other underlying health problems such as cardiac disease or being overweight.
Lack of Water
Dehydration – just like humans when it is hot we need to drink more water to remain hydrated. Always ensure your dog has access to water and plenty of it. You may need to keep an eye on your dog to make sure they are drinking enough fluids. We look at heatstroke prevention advice further on in this guide.
Any dog left in a non ventilated car in temperatures above 18 degrees can suffer from heat stroke. This is most often seen in the spring and summer months. Temperatures rise very very quickly in cars. We have all been there haven’t we? The windows are closed, we are behind glass and suddenly the sun comes out and it becomes very hot, very quickly. Now we can open car windows or get out of the car to cool down. Dogs of course can’t do this and very quickly become too hot, distressed and over heat – often leading to fatalities.
The survival time of a dog locked in a car could be as short as 30 minutes to an hour. Absolutely devastating and avoidable.
Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs
Heat stroke progresses through three stages. It begins with heat stress. Initially, a dog will pant heavily, seek a cool surface, and drink water to bring body temperature down.
If a dog cannot do these things or cannot do them effectively (such as when trapped in a hot car), heat stress develops into heat exhaustion. The panting becomes much faster, their heart rate elevates, gums become red and tacky, and their body temperature is likely greater than 41 degrees.
If this goes unaddressed, heat stroke develops. Once the dog’s temperature reaches huger than 41 degrees, damage to the body’s cellular system and organs may become irreversible.
Early signs of Heat Stroke
- Heavy panting
- Glazed eyes
- A rapid pulse
- Excessive salivation
- Red gums and tongue
- Lack of coordination
- Vomiting or diarrhoea
Advanced Stages of Heat Stroke
- White or blue gums
- Lethargy, unwillingness to move
- Uncontrollable urination or defecation
- Laboured, noisy breathing
- Loss of consciousness
The best treatment for heatstroke in dogs is prevention but in the event of your dog over heating you need to act quickly and calmly.
- Remove your dog from the hot environment
- Gradually lower your dog’s body temperature by wetting them down with a hose or bucket (avoiding the face), a fan also blowing over damp skin will help
- Do not wrap a wet towel around them as it will trap the heat that is trying to escape
- Do not 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
- Offer room temperature water but ensure the water is not iced
- 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.
How To Cool Down a Dog in Hot Temperatures
Shade and Water
Make sure when your dog is outside that they have shade and ample fresh water. Keeping it cold and fresh may encourage your dog to drink more.
Kennels can be a great way to provide your dog shade however these need to be well ventilated and allow for air to circulate.
Keep your dog inside, calm and with plenty of water. If you have tiled or stone floors these provide a cool surface for your dog to lie on. Make sure the room is well ventilated. Placing a fan by the window to circulate fresh air can help.
Cooling mats are a great way to keep your dogs cool in the hotter months. Cooling mats come in a variety of different sizes and either work on the principle of gel within the mat absorbing your dog’s body heat when pressure is applied. Alternatively there are also cooling mats where you insert frozen ice packs into the mat which then helps keep your dog cool.
One of the great aspects of cooling mats is that they can be taken out and about with you and your dog and can be used inside as well as outside.
Iced treats are a really fantastic way to ensure your dog gets enough water and a wonderful way to keep them busy and happy for a while in the shade.
You can simply put your dog’s favourite treats in an ice cube tray, cover with water and freeze. They love licking off the water to gain access to their treats. Alternatively you can flavour the water with either vegetable or meat stock which they will love.
Dog Paddling Pools
If you are not a really lucky dog owner who lives near a lake or by the sea, there are a wonderful selection of dog paddling pools out there. It is advisable to always keep an eye on your dog near water and also ensure the water is not too cold for your dog. If the water is too cold compared to the outside temperature this can actually have the opposite effect to cooling your dog down and lead to hypothermia.
Grooming Your Dog
Brushing your dog and giving them a nice shower/bath can help them to feel less hot and bothered. If your dog has a long or thick coat, you may want to consider a summer haircut to keep them cooler and their fur more manageable.
Your dog’s coat actually acts as an insulator. However, this insulating layer can make it harder for dogs to lower their body temperatures during continuously hot temperatures. Without the insulating layer, dogs are more susceptible to heat stroke, so we wouldn’t advise you to shave your dog down to the skin. Besides taking away that insulation, you are making your dog more susceptible to sunburn.
We would always advise you seeking advice from a professional groomer before you interfere with your dog’s natural coat.
Walking and Exercising Your Dog in Hot Temperatures
Keep any walking, exercising and playing during the hotter months to cooler times of the day – early in the morning or later at night. Think of those times when you have left your shoes out in the sun and go to put them on – yes ouch they are too hot for your feet. It is exactly the same for your dog when their paws touch hot surfaces and they can’t put shoes on to protect their pads.
As a general rule if you can’t touch the tarmac and keep your hand there for more than a couple of seconds, it is too hot to be walking your dog on pavements and road surfaces. You may have to alter your dog’s exercise routine during the hotter months but it will certainly be worth it to avoid any burnt pads or worse.
Always, always take water with you and stop regularly to encourage your dog to drink some. There are collapsible drinking bowls for dogs you can buy which attach to the dog’s lead or simply cut a section out of a water bottle so that your dog can quench their thirst.
Travelling with Your Dog in the Car
There are no doubt going to be times when it is unavoidable for you to travel with your dog in the car during the summer months. To help your dog feel more comfortable in the car you can take a cooling mat to put in their crate or on the seat. Alternatively wrap a towel around some ice packs.
Ensure your car is well ventilated, whether that is by having the air conditioning on or the windows open.
A sunshade on your car windows helps to block out the heat from the sun.
Never Ever Leave your Dog in a Car!
Dogs at the Beach
Days at the beach are fun and many dogs love paddling or swimming in the sea folllowed by the inevitable ‘digging a hole in the sand’. Of course we all love to see our dogs frolicking around in the sea and enjoying themselves but just as you would with a child, it is really important to keep a close eye on them.
Don’t leave your dog unattended
Don’t let your dog drink sea water as the salt may make your dog sick
Do ensure you wash the seawater off your dog as the salt and other minerals in sea water can damage your dog’s coat.
Do ensure your dog can swim and that the current is not too strong. Contrary to belief not all dogs can swim.
Do keep your dog away from fish that have washed onto the shore. They may smell and taste great to them, but they can make them ill.
Bring along fresh water, a bowl and a tent, so you can set up a shady spot when you stop. Keep a spray bottle filled with water to spray on your dog to cool them down. If you have a cooling mat use this for your dog.
Remember to protect your dog against sunburn. Dogs, especially those with short hair, white fur, and pink skin, can get sunburn. Limit your dog’s exposure during the day and apply sunscreen to his ears, nose, and coat before going outside.