With extended daylight and warm weather, the summer can be a great time to get active with your pet. However, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of heatstroke – a life-threatening condition, caused by the elevation of a dog’s body temperature. While people can also suffer heatstroke, the risk is much greater for dogs as they only perspire around their paws and nose (which is not sufficient alone to cool their body). The most effective means for a dog to expel excess heat is panting, which moves cool air through the nasal passages and around the body. If a dog doesn’t have access to cool air – either because of high outside temperatures or a confined environment – they are at risk of overheating.
Risks for Heatstroke
The biggest risk for heatstroke is the dog’s immediate environment. If your dog is in very humid conditions or a confined space without fresh air (such as a car), he or she will quickly overheat. Brachycephalic breeds of dogs (those with short muzzles e.g. British Bulldogs and Pugs) are also more prone to heat stroke because their nasal passages are smaller and it is more difficult for them to circulate sufficient air for cooling.
Early signs of heatstroke include:
- High body temperature (more than 40 degrees)
- Excessive panting
- Excess saliva
- Bluish-purple or bright red gums, due to inadequate oxygen supply to the tissues.
If your dog’s body temperature reaches above 40 degrees or it is exhibiting the above symptoms, apply immediate first aid. The most important thing is to get his or her body temperature down to a normal level.
- Maintain airflow over the body. After wetting your dog, keep air circulating around their body with a fan or air-conditioner. When taking your dog to the vet, make sure you have adequate air flow through the car. A spray bottle or wet towel draped over them will help keep them cool.
- Get them drinking. If your dog is able to drink, give him or her a large bowl of water.
- Seek veterinary attention. Heatstroke is a serious condition that requires immediate attention and intensive care is generally required to save your pet’s life. Intravenous fluids cool the body, maintain blood pressure, support the kidney system and generally help speed recovery. Any initial home treatment greatly increases the chance of surviving but it is only in mild cases that the initial home treatment is sufficient.
Fortunately, heatstroke is a preventable condition. By following the tips below, you’ll be well on the way to ensuring your dog stays safe this summer:
- Never leave your pet unattended in a car. Within ten minutes, a closed car can reach temperatures of 45 degrees. In such temperatures, a dog is unable to shed its extra heat and may quickly suffer dehydration and heatstroke. If you are getting out of the car, take your dog with you.
- Keep your dog well hydrated. Ensure your dog has easy access to fresh water. Water dishes should be placed in the shade or kept cold (frozen water bottles are handy). Dogs also have a tendency to knock water over, so it’s recommended you have a few bowls in different places.
- Carry water. When exercising your dog, take a collapsible water dish or run a route where you know your dog will have access to clean water.
- Provide shade. If your dog lives outside during the summer months, make sure you have adequate shade to shelter him or her from the sun.
- Avoid walking on hot days. During the summer months, walk your dog of a morning or an evening. Temperatures below 25 degrees are optimum.