5 Factors That Put a Dog at Risk for Heatstroke

Summer can be an incredibly fun season for dogs and their active owners. There are walks to go on, boat rides to take and beaches to explore! 

But for all the fantastic opportunities summertime offers, there are also a number of seasonal dangers. A serious one that all dog owners should keep in mind is heatstroke. While all dogs are at risk of heatstroke, there are a few factors that can make your dog more vulnerable. From the genetic predisposition of certain breeds to the dangers some outdoor dogs face, here are five heatstroke risk factors to be aware of — and avoid.

5 Factors That Put Your Dog at Risk for Summer Heatstroke

Bulldog sunbathing in grass


Congenital Defects or Underlying Respiratory Problems

Upper-airway problems, as seen in flat-faced dogs like Pugs and Boxers, are some of the most common risk factors for heatstroke in dogs exposed to higher temperatures, according to Dr. Debbie Mandell, staff veterinarian and adjunct associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital. As dogs get hotter, they pant to cool down, and brachycephalic breeds have a difficult time breathing so hard in hot conditions.

Brachycephalic airway syndrome isn't the only potential issue. Large and medium breeds, like Labs and Pit Bulls, can experience laryngeal paralysis, and collapsing trachea commonly affects small dogs like Pomeranians and Yorkies. With both conditions, the dogs' airways swell as they pant, which causes them to pant harder. That in turn increases the swelling and can create a dangerous situation quite quickly.

Sheltie running on leash


Not Being Acclimated to Hot Weather

That sunny weather can be so inviting that it's nearly impossible to remain indoors, especially if you — and your dog — have been stuck inside for months. But it's important to remember that even if you've been hitting the gym during the cooler months, your dog might not have built up the same tolerance for activity. And if you take him out to run or play with you, he's not going to know when to stop, even if he reaches the brink of collapse due to heat stress, Dr. Mandell says.

So what's a responsible dog owner to do? First of all, start with a visit to your vet, so you're sure your dog is healthy enough for increased exercise. Second, exercise restraint when it comes to, well, exercise. Start off slowly and build up your dog's fitness very gradually. Third, make sure you know the signs of heat stress (like excessive panting and drooling, a fast pulse and gums that have changed in color from pink to bright red) and be prepared to help your dog cool down before it becomes an emergency. If your dog vomits or has bloody diarrhea, you should call your veterinarian immediately.

Dog sunbathing outdoors


Being Kept Outdoors Without Access to Shade and Water

It's not only indoor dogs who aren't used to the heat who can find themselves at heatstroke risk — dogs who live primarily outdoors can land in trouble come summertime, too, if they're left without shade and water. Of course, it's best for dogs to be kept primarily indoors, but if a dog must be mostly outdoors, always provide a cool area out of the sun and plenty of fresh water.

Dog alone in car


Being Left In the Car

When it comes to ways to avoid heatstroke risk, never, ever leave a pet in a hot car. The temperature inside a car can reach over 120 degrees in minutes, Dr. Mandell says. And no, cracking the window doesn't make enough of a difference to help.

Should you see an animal locked inside a hot car, there are ways to safely rescue it. The Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA recommend that you write down the car's make, model and license plate; attempt to locate the owner; and call animal control or your local police department for help.

Basset Hound in a field


Obesity and Thick Fur

Obesity can make dogs more susceptible to a whole host of health issues, including heatstroke. That's because not all heat escapes dogs through the respiratory system; in fact, some heat loss occurs through the skin. But the layer of fat in obese pets can limit their ability to cool themselves that way.

That layer of fat under the skin serves as insulation and can prevent some of that heat from getting to the skin to be released. Thick fur can create the same problem, so furry dog breeds, like Newfoundlands and Great Pyrenees are at similar risk.

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