What’s not to like about summer? The sun’s out, everyone’s in a good mood, it’s warm, and you’re comfortable in a T-shirt and shorts. Pause at this point and spare a thought for our canine companions. Unfortunately, they don’t have the option to shed a layer, and even in the midsummer heat are stuck wearing a nose to tail fur coat. All of which means it’s easier than you might suppose for a dog to suffer from heatstroke.
Heatstroke isn’t just distressing, it can kill.
Dogs at Risk
Any dog can suffer from heatstroke, but some are at greater risk. These include:
• Flat-faced Breeds: Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boxers pant at the best of times. The anatomy of the respiratory system means they’re poorly equipped to lose extra heat, so their body temperature tends to rise ahead of those dogs with longer noses
• Thick coated breeds: It goes without saying that if you wear a thick fur coat in the summer you’re going to feel the heat. So keep those Samoyeds and Chows indoors in the cool, preferably in air conditioning, and out of the heat
• The elderly or those with heart conditions: Heat makes the body work harder, and if that body is already a little tired, it can push them into becoming ill
When you’re enjoying yourself in the sun, take a minute to think “dog” and check your dog is comfortable and safe. Factors guaranteed to have your dog’s temperature climbing include being in the full sun, exercising in the heat, no access to water, and lack of a breeze or wind.
Signs of Heatstroke
Never underestimate the heat. Sometimes it only takes a moderately hot day, combined with a walk in the full sun, to push a dog over the edge into heat distress. Knowing the signs and being vigilant allows you to take immediate action to cool your dog.
The early indicators include:
• Lagging behind: If your dog lacks his usual gusto and is dragging behind, making heavy weather of the walk, then stop to let him rest
• Panting heavily: OK, dogs do pant in hot weather. But does his tongue look dry, and is he putting more effort than usual into panting? If you’re not sure, then get him into the shade
• Sticky saliva: If he’s panting hard, then check his saliva. If it’s really thick and stringy and has an almost glue-like quality, then the chances are he’s starting to dehydrate
• Dry gums: Touch his gums. They should be moist and pale pink. If they’re dry to the touch, and bright pink then he’s hot–perhaps dangerously so
If you miss the early signs and he stays in the heat, more obvious (and serious) symptoms develop. These are:
• Vomiting and retching: This doesn’t happen to all dogs, but some dry heave in the heat
• Physical distress: The dog looks distressed and may not be able to walk straight. He may lie down and refuse to move while his heart races even at rest
• Seizures: Unfortunately, seizures or even coma can follow
If in doubt: Act.
• Carry the dog out of the full sun, ideally to a cool room
• Offer him water to drink
• Blow air over him with a fan
• Soak his coat with cool (not cold or freezing) water
• Put an ice pack on his forehead
• Call the vet
Unfortunately, some dogs do need hospitalization for treatment with cold intravenous fluids and cold water enemas to bring their temperature down.
Heat stroke is largely preventable with a few simple common sense precautions. Think before going out in the heat, and never exercise your dog (no matter how fit they are) in the hottest part of the day.
• Keep your dog out of the heat of the day
• Walk the dog first thing in the morning and last thing at night
• If your dog is desperate to exercise, try swimming (with appropriate safety precautions)
• Take plenty of water with you. This isn’t just drinking water, but enough to pour over the dog to cool him off
• Take care walking the dog on hot pavements or sand. If you can’t comfortably stand barefoot on the surface, then your dog stands a good chance of burnt paws
• Remember, if it’s too hot for you, then it’s definitely too hot for your dog. Do everything you can (shade, water, rest) to keep him cool
• If in doubt, stop, get your dog into the shade and give him water