Steps in Treating Heat Stroke in Dogs
Dogs are not as efficient at releasing heat for they are built to conserve rather than release heat and tend to heat up faster than we do. We may not be aware of the fact that a dog has become overheated until symptoms suddenly develop. Heat stroke in dogs is a very serious condition and its onset can be sudden, escalating into an emergency situation in a matter of minutes. Knowing how to treat a dog experiencing heat stroke may be vital to saving your dog’s life.
Recognizing Heat Stroke in Dogs
- Be aware of the temperature. Know what the temperature is at the time of the dog’s symptoms. You may want to write down the temperature as well as the conditions (ie: direct sunlight) and the dog’s activity level prior to and at the start of symptoms so that you can communicate this information to a veterinarian.
- In the event of a dog being trapped in an area such as a car, you may not know the exact temperature, but if you note that it felt much hotter than the outdoor temperature of 90 degrees, a vet may have enough information to effectively assess and treat the dog.
- Watch for initial heat stroke symptoms. Some early signs of heat stroke include:
- Excessive or loud panting
- Extreme thirst
- Frequent vomiting
- A bright red tongue and pale gums
- The skin around muzzle or neck doesn’t snap back when pinched
- Thick saliva
- Increased heart rate
- Look out for signs of worsening heat stroke. The dog’s heat stroke can be worsening if he begins to exhibit any of the following:
- Increased difficulty breathing
- Gums that turn bright red, then blue or purple
- Weakness and/or fatigue
- Collapse or coma
- Take the dog’s temperature. One of the best ways to assess whether the dog’s internal temperature is elevated is to take his temperature rectally. A dog’s temperature is normally between 99.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. A dog is overheated if his temperature is 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. A temperature of 109 °F (42.8 °C) is usually fatal.
- Obtain a digital rectal thermometer (preferably one made for pets).
- Lubricate it with a lubricant such as petroleum or KY jelly.
- Ask a helper to hold the dog by holding the head and front part of the body.
- Locate the rectum and lift the tail for access.
- Carefully insert the thermometer into the rectum about one inch (2.5cm); do not let go of it.
- Wait until the digital thermometer beeps. When this happens, carefully remove the thermometer and read the temperature.
- Write down the dog’s temperature so that you can communicate it to a veterinarian.
Treating Heat Stroke in Dogs
- Remove the dog from the heat. If possible, move the dog indoors to an air-conditioned area, or to a shaded area outdoors, preferably with decent airflow. You will also need to restrict the dog’s activity at this point; do not allow him to run around until the danger of heat stroke has passed.
- If you can, carry the dog to a cool place, rather than ask him to walk.
- Allow the dog to drink cool water. Keep the quantity of water small at first. It is not advisable to give the dog human sports drinks. If the dogs seem uninterested in water, cool or room temperature (low-fat, unsalted) beef or chicken broth is an acceptable substitute.
- Do not force feed water to the dog if he cannot drink freely on his own. Instead, wet his lips, gums, and tongue with water squeezed from a facecloth or clean towel.
- Cool the dog with water. If possible, wet the dog with a stream of cool water. If the water is coming from a hose, be sure that the pressure is reduced. Do not submerge your dog underwater completely, as he can lose temperature too quickly, which may lead to other complications.
- Be sure that the water is not overly cold. Very cold or ice water can actually slow the dog’s cooling processes.
- Give priority to wetting his extremities such as paws, head and tail. Also, place towels soaked with cool water between his back legs and in his armpits.
- Contact an emergency veterinarian. Even if your dog is responding well to cooling treatments, it is imperative that you contact (and go to) an emergency vet. Internal (organ) damage is a possible side effect of a heat stroke. Undiagnosed complications can be fatal to your dog.
- Place rubbing alcohol on the pads of the dog’s paws. Dogs release heat from the pads of their feet, so putting rubbing alcohol on the pads can help draw some of the heat out. Be sure that the feet are uncovered and exposed to cool air.
- Do not use too much alcohol, as it can be harmful if ingested.
- Do not cover or confine the dog. You can wipe the dog down with cool, damp towels, but do not drape the towels over him, as they can trap in the dog’s body heat. Do not place the dog in a closed crate that will hold the heat from his body in around his body.
- Place the dog on a cool tile floor, and have a fan blow air over him.
Preventing Heat Stroke in Dogs
- Be aware of conditions that may cause or exacerbate heat stroke. Dogs that are elderly, obese, or have a history of heart disease or seizures are more likely to suffer from heat strokes and may have a lower tolerance for increased heat.
- Dogs with shorter snouts (like Pugs or Bulldogs) have a harder time panting out their body heat, so may be at higher risk.
- Certain breeds do not tolerate heat as well as others. Some breeds that should be avoided in areas that have extremely hot climates include Bulldogs (English and French), Boxers, Saint Bernards, Pugs, and Shih Tzus.
- Do not leave a dog in a car in the summer. A dog should never be left in a vehicle in the sun, even if the temperature is mild. Even with the windows cracked, the temperature inside a car can increase exponentially in a matter of minutes, often with fatal results for unfortunate dogs.
- Groom dogs appropriately for the season. Dogs with particularly long and thick fur may need to be shaved or trimmed during the hottest part of the summer. A professional groomer will likely know the best approach for providing a weather-appropriate style for your dog.
- Leave your dog inside during very hot days. If the weather is extremely hot, allow your dog to stay inside an air-conditioned house during the hottest parts of the day. If this is not possible, then ensure that he has access to a safe, shaded area outdoors.
- Provide your dog with shade and water. If your dog is outside on a very hot day, be sure that he has access to water and shade. Some people even put ice on the ground for their dogs to lie on if it is particularly hot outside.
- Let your dog swim safely in hot weather. If your dog has access to a river, stream, or pond, he will likely swim in order to remain cool on a hot day. Allowing a dog access to water for swimming, or even hosing him down (gently) with water can help prevent heat stroke.
- Be sure that you supervise your dog’s swimming and do not leave him near deep water (particularly swimming pools, which can be difficult for dogs to exit) if he is not a strong swimmer.
- If you do not have access to pet-friendly public pools or beaches, purchase a kiddie pool just for your dog. These can be found at most department stores for as little as ten dollars. Kiddie pools are also a great alternative for pets that are not strong swimmers, that cannot be trusted off leash, or that are uncomfortable around other dogs and strange people.
- Never allow your dog to drink from or swim in water that is contaminated with algae, as this can be toxic to dogs.
- Allow your dog to rest if he is working in the heat. If you have a working dog, such as a herder, you should allow him time to rest during hot days. During rest times, be sure that he has access to plenty of shade and cool water. If possible, allow him to swim or wet him during a break.