Heatstroke! Summer Days Can Turn Deadly Quickly for Overheated Dogs

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In the summer, a hot dog is both a ballpark staple and a veterinarian’s nightmare.

Dogs — the four-legged kind — get “cooked” far more easily than people do. And that means dog lovers need to be careful to be sure their pets don’t end up in the ER with heat stroke. (Cats, by the way, don’t tend to have heat problems generally, because they have too much sense to run around when it’s too hot.)

Since most dogs will risk their lives to go with the people they love, it’s up to pet lovers to make sure the summer heat doesn’t put their pets in deadly danger. That means knowing the signs of heat stress and reacting to a pet in danger as if it’s a life-threatening emergency — which it is.

Don’t Take Chances

Though humans cope with hot weather by sweating, dogs shed heat by panting, which is a very poor cooling system. In the wild, dogs seek shade during the hottest part of the day; left to their own devices, most pet dogs will, too —  unless they are lured into activity by ball tossed across the yard or the rattle of a leash offering an exciting outing.

Leave your pet at home when it’s warm, never leave your dog in the car even on a mild day (heat builds up quickly), and exercise your pet in the cooler mornings or evenings. If you wonder if a street or sidewalk is too hot for your pet to walk on, place the palm of your hand on the pavement: if it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog’s feet.

For dogs with short faces (the so-called brachycephalic breeds), such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekinese, and mixes of these breeds, the risk is even higher. These dogs cannot breathe well even under ideal circumstances and absolutely must be kept in air-conditioned quarters during the warmer months. Older dogs, overweight or obese dogs, and unfit dogs are also at higher risk.

Warning Signs

A dog’s normal temperature is about 101.5, and a degree up or down is just fine. More than a couple of degrees up can be reason for concern, and it’s certainly an indication that you need to get your dog calm and cool. However, when a dog’s internal temperature reaches 105 or above, his life is in danger, and you must act immediately.

But since most people don’t carry a thermometer around, they have to rely on the signs of an overheated dog. These include:

  • Heavy, rapid panting
  • Salivating
  • Glassy-eyed expression
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Bright red or blue/purple gums
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Collapse

Don’t wait until the problem becomes dangerously obvious. Keep an eye on your pet and take action at the first sign of trouble. Offer lots of water, and if your dog likes to swim, provide access to a baby pool or larger body of water.

In Case of an Emergency

If you’ve missed the warnings and your dog is overheated, move your pet immediately to the shade or an air-cooled area. Use cool water — not ice-cold water or ice, which constricts blood vessels and traps heat — on your dog’s belly, concentrating on the groin. If you do have a thermometer, lubricate the tip and insert it gently into the rectum to get an accurate temperature to share with your veterinarian. Offer your pet cool water to drink but don’t force water into your dog’s mouth.

And then call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic to let someone know you are on your way.

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