The hot weather has arrived in the Sudbury region, and it’s time to think of some dangers that our furry friends face in the summer heat. Dogs, in general, cannot tolerate too much heat. Some breeds, such as bulldogs, are even more likely to succumb to the effects of high temperatures. This blog is designed to make you aware of the signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke and what to do if they occur.
Heatstroke happens when a dog loses the ability to self-regulate his/her body temperature. Dogs cannot sweat in the same way as humans, which make them more susceptible to the effects of hot weather. Dogs have a small number of sweat glands in their paw pads, but the primary way they regulate their body temperature is by panting. If the dog cannot cool down by panting quickly enough, then heat exhaustion or heat stroke can occur.
Some symptoms of heatstroke include excessive panting, hypersalivation, rapid pulse, weakness, dry gums that may be pale, elevated body temperature and possibly gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea. If the heat exposure continues, the dog’s breathing may slow down (or worse – become absent) and seizures, coma or death can result.
Watch for signs of overheating during hot weather. Noticing the early signs of heat exhaustion will reduce the chance that heatstroke will occur and increase the likelihood of successful treatment. If you notice any symptoms listed above, move your dog to a cooler, shaded area. Ideally, the dog should be taken indoors and placed in an air-conditioned or fan cooled environment. Use a rectal thermometer to gauge your dog’s temperature. A normal body temperature for dogs is 38.2o C – 39.3o C (101o F – 102o F). Elevation from the normal can be an indication of heat exhaustion.
You will need to reduce your dog’s body temperature gradually – sudden decrease in body temperature can make your dog go into shock. Do not use cold water; it is best to use lukewarm or cool water to in your efforts. Do NOT use ice cubes or ice packs on your dog. You can cool off your dog’s body temperature by putting towels that have been soaked in cool (NOT cold) water on the back of the neck, in the armpits and between the hind legs. You can also pour cool (NOT cold) water on the foot pads as well. If you are outside and near a body of water such as a river, lake or pond, then you can place your dog in the shallows of the water, being sure to support your dog’s head up out of the water. Offer fresh cool drinking water to your dog. You can try wetting the tongue if your dog doesn’t want to drink, but never force water into the mouth because your dog may aspirate the water into his lungs. Call the veterinary hospital as soon as possible and make arrangements to transport your dog to the hospital. Once at the hospital, your dog will likely be started on intravenous fluids and oxygen, as well as other treatments.
To prevent overheating during the hot summer months, make sure your dog has a shaded, cool area that is out of the direct sunlight. Don’t push your dog to be very active and be sure to offer ample amounts of fresh cold water. NEVER leave your pet in the car during the heat of the summer! Even if the windows are down, the interior of the vehicle will reach dangerously high levels of heat in a matter of just a few minutes. If your dog is in the car, you will need to leave the car running with the air conditioning running on high. Better yet – leave your dog at home!
Written by Shanon Chase, RVT