Updated Dog Heatstroke Survival Guide

Peanut Butter keeps cool in his wading pool

The other afternoon, we had Hanna out with us beside the pool. I guess we didn’t quite realize how hot it was, because within fifteen or so minutes, she was panting heavily. Luckily, we were able to bring Hanna partway into the pool and cool her off quite easily, but this could just as easily have been a serious situation.

Heat Stroke is a killer of all breeds, not just brachycephalics, and this summer’s extraordinarily hot, muggy conditions are conducive to faster, more serious cases than even the most diligent of us might be used to.

With that in mind, here’s an updated guide to heatstroke in dogs – how to recognize it, and how to treat it. Print it out, and have it in a handy place, because if heatstroke strikes, you do not want to have to go on the internet to look for an info sheet.

Dog Heatstroke Survival Guide
Know how to treat and prevent this dangerous condition.

Robert Newman

What is heatstroke?

In simple terms, heatstroke occurs when a dog loses its natural ability to
regulate its body temperature. Dogs don’t sweat all over their bodies the
way humans do. Canine body temperature is primarily regulated through
respiration (i.e., panting). If a dog’s respiratory tract cannot evacuate
heat quickly enough, heatstroke can occur.

To know whether or not your dog is suffering from heatstroke (as opposed to
merely heat exposure), it’s important to know the signs of heatstroke.

A dog’s normal resting temperature is about 100.5 to 102.5 degrees
Fahrenheit. Once a dog’s temperature rises above 105 degrees, physiological
changes start to take place, and the dog begins to experience the effects of
heatstroke. At 106 to 108 degrees, the dog begins to suffer irreversible
damage to the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract, heart and brain.

If a dog is experiencing heatstroke, you may observe excessive panting;
hyperventilation; increased salivation; dry gums that become pale, grayish
and tacky; rapid or erratic pulse; weakness; confusion; inattention;
vomiting; diarrhea; and possible rectal bleeding. If the dog continues to
overheat, breathing efforts become slowed or absent, and finally, seizures
or coma can occur.

The amount of damage a dog sustains when stricken with heatstroke depends on
the magnitude and duration of the exposure. The longer and more severe the
exposure, the worse the damage will be.

What to do

1. Pay attention to your dog. Recognizing the symptoms of heatstroke and
responding quickly is essential for the best possible outcome.

2. Get into the shade. If you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke,
move it into a shaded area and out of direct sunlight. Apply cool water to
the inner thighs and stomach of the dog, where there’s a higher
concentration of relatively superficial, large blood vessels. Apply cool
water to the foot pads, as well.

3. Use running water. A faucet or hose is the best way to wet down your
dog’s body. Never submerge your dog in water, such as in a pool or tub –
this could cool the dog too rapidly, leading to further complications,
including cardiac arrest and bloating.

4. Use cool – not cold – water. Many people make the mistake of using cold
water or ice to cool the dog. When faced with a dog suffering from
heatstroke, remember that the goal is to cool the dog. Using ice or
extremely cold water is actually counterproductive to this process because
ice and cold water cause the blood vessels to constrict, which slows blood
flow, thus slowing the cooling process.

5. Don’t cover the dog. One of the keys to successfully cooling your dog
is ensuring the water being placed on the dog can evaporate. Never cover an
overheated dog with a wet towel or blanket. This inhibits evaporation and
creates a sauna effect around your dog’s body. Likewise, don’t wet the dog
down and put it into an enclosed area, such as a kennel. Any air flow during
the cooling process is helpful in reducing the dog’s body temperature.
Sitting with the wet dog in a running car with the air conditioner blowing
is an ideal cooling situation.

6. Keep the dog moving. It’s important to try to encourage your dog to
stand or walk slowly as it cools down. This is because the circulating blood
tends to pool in certain areas if the dog is lying down, thus preventing the
cooled blood from circulating back to the core.

7. Allow the dog to drink small amounts of water. Cooling the dog is the
first priority. Hydration is the next. Don’t allow the dog to gulp water.
Instead, offer small amounts of water that’s cool, but not cold. If the dog
drinks too much water too rapidly, it could lead to vomiting or bloat.

8. Avoid giving human performance drinks. Performance beverages designed
for humans are not recommended because they are not formulated with the
canine’s physiology in mind. If you can’t get an overheated dog to drink
water, try offering chicken- or beef-based broths.

See a veterinarian

Once your dog’s temperature begins to drop, cease the cooling efforts and
bring the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your dog’s temperature
should be allowed to slowly return to normal once cooling has begun. A dog
that’s cooled too quickly may become hypothermic.

Even if your dog appears to be fully recovered, the veterinarian needs to
check to determine if the heatstroke caused any damage to your dog’s kidneys
and liver. The effects of heatstroke can continue for 48 to 72 hours longer,
even if your dog appears normal.

William Grant, DVM, a veterinarian for 20 years and former president of the
Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, has treated hundreds of
cases of heatstroke, ranging from mild to fatal.

According to Grant, the most common cause of death following heatstroke is
disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (blood coagulating throughout the
body), or DIC, which can occur hours or days after the heatstroke episode.

DIC can also be caused by pyometra or septicemia, but Grant says heatstroke
is the most common cause. “Once a dog develops DIC, it may bleed in the
thorax, abdomen, nose and intestine,” Grant says. “Once the blood-clotting
factors are consumed, there is an inability of the blood vessels to prevent
leaking; the condition is almost always fatal.” For this reason, follow-up
veterinary care is essential following a heatstroke episode, even if your
dog seems to be completely fine.

Prevention is the best medicine

The best treatment for heatstroke is prevention. Especially during the
summer months, it’s essential to be aware of the potential for heatstroke.
Knowing the signs of heatstroke, and taking the necessary steps to prevent
it, will ensure your dog can have a safe and active life year-round.

3 replies
  1. 2dogcrazy
    2dogcrazy says:

    I recently posted an entry at my blog detailing Kane’s brush with death due to heat stroke about a month ago.

    His heat stroke came on hard, and fast, seemingly out of nowhere. I put his heavy panting down to the warm, muggy conditions and didn’t think anything of it, until instead of jumping into the backseat of my car to go home, Kane laid down in front of it, almost like he couldn’t muster the energy to jump in. That little thing was enough to make me suspicious and I decided to take the route home which passed by his vet’s.

    Good thing I did because when I stopped at the vet concerned about “heat stress”, they took his temperature and he was at 107.5 F and rising. They immediately carried him to the back and gave him a cool (not cold) bath. They draped towels around his head and around his neck because they were worried about brain damage at that point, and they wanted to cool his head and the blood going to it. In fact, when they’d lowered his temperature enough, they brought him out to me in the lobby to gauge his reaction as a determinate of whether he’d suffered brain damage.

    He’s recovered now, thanks to their quick actions and an afternoon of IV fluids since he wouldn’t drink cat-food-laced water or pedialyte.

    But I can’t stress enough that the warning signs for his heat stroke were very subtle: heavy panting (which I put down to us playing some fetch), bright red gums and tongue, and him laying down in front of my car instead of jumping into it.

    The vet said if I hadn’t brought him in, he would have died — and I only brought him in because of a niggling suspicion and gut instinct.

  2. vicky
    vicky says:

    I don’t know if you heard of the stupid cop, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, who was raising a dog, as a future police working dog, who left the dog in his SUV, in the heat, a few weeks ago, while he got in his boat, and went off fishing for three hours.

    For some reason, maybe ‘awe’ at the fact that he was a cop, but the people around did nothing for 3 hours, other than put a roof over his car, and spray it with water.

    When they finally began to phone the cops (kind of a waste of time, as they kept insisting that the dog was probably fine) it still took them a long time to come out and do something. No doubt embarrassment played a big part in this.

    First they said that their dogs were ‘trained’ to handle heat. WHAT???? Then they finally found another cop with a key to the vehicle and drove it away.

    Can anyone here make an educated guess as to whether or not this puppy (he was ten months old) is likely to have suffered brain damage? I am thinking that he must have.

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