Preventing and recognising Heatstroke in Dogs
By Scotty Valadao – Accredited Animal Behaviourist (Canine) (ABC of SA™)
As with all situations, prevention is better than cure, especially with a condition like Heat Stroke which can happen quickly and be fatal. As our dogs walk around with a fur coat on it is logical that they will feel the heat more and be more likely to develop heatstroke. The thicker and denser the coat, the more they will be susceptible. Dogs which are over weight will be at higher risk as well as those dogs bred for the colder climates. Certain breeds such as bulldogs and pugs are in a high risk bracket due to the structure of their face; they can’t pant as efficiently as other breeds. Panting is the main method dogs use to deal with excess heat.
Avoid, at all costs, leaving your dog in a car, even for a few minutes. Accidents are just that, accidents, and if for some or other reason you are detained getting back to the car, your dog may well be in trouble by the time you get there. Even leaving the dog in a car in the shade is dangerous, simply because shade moves as the sun moves. The same thing can happen if you tie your dog up under a tree – shade moves.
When it comes to exercising your dog, do so in the early morning or early evening – don’t over walk or over exercise in hot conditions, as this can quickly lead to heatstroke.
Travelling and Holiday
Heatstroke occurs more when a dog is confined, so pay special attention when your dog is travelling with you. The inside of a car is much warmer than outside, especially if you do not have an air conditioner. If your dog is overheating you may find that it becomes restless due to anxiety, which can be dangerous for the occupants of the car as well as the dog. As not all dogs will drink water when travelling, stop about once an hour to let your dog drink and stretch its legs and cool down, unless overheating is observed, in which case stop immediately. If your dog does start panting excessively and looks anxious and uncomfortable, stop straight away to quench the thirst and cool the dog down. There is a product on the market call a ‘door sock’. As opposed to the old stick-on shade covers, this slips on over the door (like a sock) and allows you to keep the window open providing fresh air and shade.
Another point to consider if you take your dog on holiday with you is the different climatic conditions. A walk in Johannesburg is not the same as a walk in Durban. There will be increased humidity and higher temperatures which may affect your dog. If you normally walk a few kilometres per day at home, on holiday cut the distance down initially, walk then it is cooler, and watch your dog for signs of distress.
How do dogs sweat?
Dogs have the ability to sweat, but not the same as humans. Their skin and armpits don’t contain sweat glands as we humans have. They sweat through the pads on the feet, the anus and the tongue. As mentioned above, their main method of getting rid of excess heat is to pant.
Signs of Heatstroke
A dog’s normal temperature is between 38.2 – 39.2 degrees. When the temperature has risen to the 40 degree mark your dog is already suffering from moderate heat stroke and when the temperature rises above the 41.5 degree mark, the situation is very serious. Heatstroke can occur very quickly and must be dealt with immediately in order to save your dogs life. The easiest way to check a dog’s temperature is with a thermometer. Ask your vet to teach you to do this as well as discuss with him the use of products containing glucose, which assist with dehydration. After learning add the thermometer and glucose product to your car emergency kit.
The early signs of heatstroke include the following:-
- Rapid Heart Rate
- Increased Temperature
- The gums become either bright red or may turn pale and greyish.
- The dog may become disorientated and dizzy.
Any signs of heatstroke must be treated as an absolute emergency and the dog must go to the vet immediately
What to do
Remain as calm as possible. If you stress, your dog is going to pick it up and become more anxious. Get your dog into the shade and soak him with tap or cool water as soon as possible. Don’t cover him with a damp or water soaked towel as this will stop the heat from escaping. Only use tap or tepid water, not very cold or iced water as this will cause the blood vessels to constrict (vasoconstriction) and will stop the heat from escaping from the body and the core body temperature will keep on rising. However, the area under the armpits and groin has some of the major blood vessels situated there, and you can apply cold water or ice packs here which will allow the body to cool down. Allow your dog to drink water and transport him to the vet urgently, keeping him shaded in the car, but not confined. Stroking the ears (from the base to the tip) as taught in Tellington TTouch, can help to calm your dog down and stop it from going into shock.
If you know how to take your dogs temperature, take it initially to determine if your dog is suffering from heatstroke. If so, follow the recommendations above but checking the temperature every 4-5 minutes. When the temperature drops to 39.5 degrees, stop the cooling process as it can be dangerous to continue and can actually aggravate the condition.
Even if your dog appears to have recovered, it is essential to go straight to a vet
These points above may help you to save your dogs life, but as mentioned in the beginning, prevention is always better than cure and the more you know about your dog, the better educated your are.
This article is copyrighted and remains the property of the author. Individuals are welcome to print or copy same for their own use in furthering their knowledge of dogs. However, no reproductions or alterations/variations are allowed without the express written consent of the author.