Many dog owners don’t realize how quickly heatstroke can affect dogs and that it can be fatal. That’s why the prevention of heatstroke in dogs is just as important as recognizing the symptoms.
On a hot day, a dog will cool herself off in two ways: evaporation (panting to evaporate the heat) and conduction (lying on a cool surface to transfer the heat).
Overheating, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke are all terms that refer to the stages of a dog’s body temperature rising. Heatstroke occurs when the dog’s body overheats to the point where she can’t cool herself down.
There are 3 stages of heatstroke. With heat stress, a dog will pant heavily, drink water, and seek out a cool surface to bring down her body temperature. Heat exhaustion sets in if a dog can’t cool off effectively—the heart rate rises, panting becomes faster, and gums become red as the body temperature elevates. If heat exhaustion is not addressed, heat stroke will occur—the body temperature continues to rise and the dog may vomit, have seizures, diarrhea, or collapse.
The following are the most common causes of heatstroke:
- A warm or hot environment with inadequate ventilation or shelter (common examples include being closed in a room, car, crate or other enclosure
- Excessive exercise in hot weather or a hot room
- Lack of drinking water
- Lack of shade or shelter from the heat for a dog left outside
Being stuck in a car—even with a window cracked open—can be deadly for a dog. NEVER leave your dog alone in a car, regardless of the weather.
Although heat exhaustion can quickly progress to symptoms of heatstroke in dogs, an alert owner can catch the symptoms early and treat the dog appropriately before her temperature elevates to a dangerous level:
- Immediately get your pet out of the heat
- Wet your dog down with cool (not cold) water with a hose, tub, or pitcher of water (if using a hose, run the water to ensure it isn’t hot from laying in the sun)
- Get the areas without hair (stomach, paw pads) wet and soak the ground around the dog as well
- Turn a fan on and aim it at your dog (the blowing air on a dog’s wet skin will cool them down quickly)
- If you aren’t at home, put your wet dog in the front seat of your car with you and blast the AC
- Encourage your cooling dog to move around and circulate the cooling blood
- Don’t allow your dog guzzle water (it could lead to bloat)
- If your dog displays heatstroke symptoms, go to your vet to be checked out
The easiest way to handle heatstroke is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are easy steps to follow to prevent heatstroke in dogs:
- Leave your dog at home on hot days
- Never leave your dog in a crate in the sunshine or a sunny place in your house
- Give your dog access to fresh, cool drinking water at all times
- On hot days, exercise your dog in the early morning or evening
- If your dog is outside, make sure they have access to shade and fresh water
- Add a kiddie pool to the yard so they can cool themselves down
- Don’t walk your dog on hot concrete, asphalt, or sand to avoid burning her paws
- Make sure your dog’s area, whether outside or inside, is well-ventilated because her cooling process relies on good airflow
As much as we all love to take our dogs with us wherever we go (and knowing that no matter how hot it is our dogs will beg us to come along), we need to know when it is safest to leave our dogs at home in a cool, sheltered environment.
Here’s to awesome owners like you who care enough to learn the symptoms of heatstroke and keep your dog safe!