The mercury has shot past the 100 degree mark. Plants are drooping. Sidewalks are shimmering and simmering. It’s time to protect your dog from heat stroke.
Just imagine you were walking in the summer sun in bare feet and a fur coat. That’s what summer is like for a dog. If you’re sweating on a dog walk, you’re still cooler than your dog.
Why? Your body cools off by sweating. As the sweat evaporates, you cool down. But your dog, on the other hand, can only pant. That is literally pumping out the hot air. Moisture evaporates off his tongue, and some heat is lost through the pads in his paws. But if the ground is hot, this hardly makes a difference.
What is Heat Stroke?
If your dog can’t get rid of heat fast enough to keep his body at a normal 101 to 102 degree temperature, he’ll get heat stroke. Technically, a dog is having heat stroke when his body temperature reaches 104 degrees.
A dog with a body temperature of 106 degrees is in a life-threatening situation. This requires immediate vet attention. As a dog’s body temperature rises, he or she can get dehydrated. Without enough fluid in the body, the blood thickens. The heart gets stressed trying to move the thickened blood. The blood may even clot.
The first effects of heat stroke are usually felt in the cells of the liver, brain and intestines. Without treatment, these organs will be damaged or fail. The dog will die.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
Temperature, humidity, activity and how long a dog has been outside all play a role in how heat affects him or her.
If you see these signs in your dog on a hot day, he or she may be having heat stroke:
- Heavy, rapid panting
- A bright red tongue
- Red or pale gums
- Flushed skin inside the ears
- Muscle tremors
- Vomiting (sometimes with blood)
The effects of heat will be worse if a dog is old, overweight or has a short muzzle such as a bulldog, Boston terrier, pug, boxer, Lhasa apso or Shih tzu.
What to Do For a Dog with Heat Stroke
The most important thing is to cool the dog off. Get the dog out of the sun. Give the dog water. Get air moving around the dog.
Apply wet towels or cloths to him down. Use cool or tepid water — not ice cold water. (Icy water can set off other complications). You can apply colder water to areas where the blood circulates close to the skin such as where the legs join the body, the neck or the abdomen.
A dog with moderate heat stroke may recover in about an hour. Even so, the dog should be taken to a vet. He may be dehydrated or have other complications. Sometimes the damage from heat stroke is lasting.
Heat Stroke Prevention is Best
It is far, far better to make sure your dog never has stroke than it is to have to treat it. Here are some tips to avoid heat stroke this summer:
- NEVER EVER leave your dog in a car during the summer. In the sun, the inside of a car can quickly reach 140 degrees F. Even with the windows cracked, a car with no air conditioning can cause a dog to have brain damage or die.
- Walk early in the morning or around sundown when temperatures are cooler. (Be sure to protect yourself at these times from mosquitos, which can cause West Nile virus infection.)
- Easy does it. Don’t expect your dog to do strenuous activities on a hot day. Avoid activities like running beside a bike or a jogger or playing Frisbee. Such activities multiply the effects of heat.
- If you can’t walk barefoot comfortably on a hot sidewalk, it’s too hot for your dog to walk on.
- Carry water and a bowl and stop often to let your dog have a drink.
- Remember that dogs can get sunburned if they have short hair or thin spots in their coats. But don’t reach for that zinc oxide — it’s dangerous for dogs. Instead use sun protection specifically designed for dogs.
- Don’t muzzle a dog in the heat.
- Give dogs that live outdoors plenty of shady places to retreat to.
This video from the American Veterinary Medicine Association may help protect your dog against heat stroke:
There are many products to help dogs get through a hot summer. They range from cooling bandanas and vests to beds and pads. You can read more at “Keep dogs cool in summer with pads or vests” (FidoUniverse.com, Aug. 22, 2012).
Here are some other articles about protecting dogs from the heat:
“Help your dog beat the summer heat,” June 27, 2013.
“10 tips to protect your dog from summer heat,” May 28, 2014.
“Cool tips for hot dogs,” June 20, 2016.