Heat Stroke

on Monday, 25 May 2015 Posted in VetNotes, Cats, Dogs, General, News

Heat Stroke

The summer is here!! It’s my favorite time of the year, and it is for my dogs as well.  I love to take them outside for hikes and to let them run around and play.   

Even though the summer is great for so many activities, it can also be dangerous.  The heat of the summer can sneak up on our dogs and get them in serious trouble.  As an emergency veterinarian, I often have dogs brought to me in very bad shape after they have simply been playing outside on a hot day.

Heat exhaustion or heat stroke can occur when the body temperature increases and cannot be controlled by the normal body regulating mechanisms.  Unlike people, dogs don’t have efficient cooling systems. People can sweat, but dogs don’t sweat much (except through glands in their feet).  They can only cool off by panting, so they can get overheated easily.  Therefore, a summer midday walk or run in the park where we get hot and sweaty may mean a life-threatening event for our dogs.

It is also important to know that any breed of dog can suffer from heat stroke.  However, there are some breeds and some individual characteristics that put some dogs at higher risk for overheating.  For example, all brachiocephalic breeds (flat-faced dogs such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, Pekingese, Boxers, English Bulldogs, and Shih Tzu’s) have the highest risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Dogs with thick hair coats (Akita, Siberian Husky, German Shepherd, etc) and dark hair coats (Black Labrador, Doberman, etc) absorb and retain heat easily. Also, dogs that have recently moved to a warmer climate and dogs with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease or obesity can also be more vulnerable to the heat.

So my recommendations for the summer months are to never allow a brachycephalic breed dog to spend time outside in the heat.  They are better off in the safety and comfort of an air-conditioned house.  For all other breeds, walks are better tolerated during the coolest part of the days, so early in the morning or late in the evening.  During walks or exercise, give your dog frequent breaks and free access to water.  For dogs that live outside, shelter/shade and cool water should be available at all times. 

If out and about with your dog during the summer months, notice his attitude, the color of his tongue, how fast he is panting, and his level of energy. If your dog appears restless or agitated, is rapidly panting with a bright red (or purple) tongue, has thick saliva, and seems to be slowing down or becoming weak, immediately find a cool place because your dog’s temperature is probably reaching a critical point.  Before even going to the veterinarian, start trying to lower his temperature by wetting him (not submerging him) thoroughly with room temperature water (NOT ice or ice water) and allow free access to drinking water (do not force water down their throat).

Immediately after cooling your dog, take him to be seen by a veterinarian.  It is extremely dangerous to wait until the next business day after showing signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  Heat stroke is considered an emergency and therefore any dog presenting symptoms must be evaluated as soon as possible.  Please remember that the Animal Emergency Clinic at Buffalo Ridge is open after hours and during weekends to help in case this happens to your dog.

We wish you and your dog a fun and safe summer!

Andrea Martinez DVM, MS

Dr. Martinez is an emergency veterinarian for Buffalo Ridge Animal Hospital