When spring arrives and warmer days become more frequent, dog owners naturally want to spend more time outside with their pets. But as temperatures start to climb, so do the odds of heat stroke in dogs. This risk is especially great during the first heat wave of the year, when pets have not yet acclimated to the conditions.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke occurs when the body’s cooling mechanisms (for example, panting) aren’t able to dissipate excessive heat, leading to increased body temperature. This dangerous condition can lead to seizures, organ dysfunction, blood clotting problems, and even death.
Who gets heat stroke?
While all breeds are at risk for overheating, some are more susceptible to heat stroke than others. Brachycephalic breeds (those with “smushed” faces such as pugs, bulldogs, and boxers) are the most susceptible. Overweight and senior pets are also more easily affected by hot temperatures. Extra precautions should be taken to keep these pets safe on hot days.
“One of the primary ways that dogs cool off is by panting, and if there is a problem with the larynx or soft palate, they cannot pant and cool off effectively,” said Dr. Lynne Morris, a veterinarian in the emergency department at SAGE Dublin. “If you have a brachycephalic breed, or a dog that has developed laryngeal paralysis, it is critical to limit their time outside to the cooler hours and avoid excessive activity.”
Heat stroke is largely a canine issue. In the rare cases where cats suffer heat stroke, being left in a hot vehicle is usually to blame. Cars can reach dangerous temperatures quickly, even in mild temperatures. Pets should never be left unattended in cars in the spring and summer months.
So how can you tell if your dog is experiencing heat stroke? Symptoms include heavy panting, vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, and seizures. If you suspect your pet might be suffering from heat-induced illness, you should remove your pet from the heat and seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible.
“Get the pet to an air conditioned environment and cover him/her with cool wet towels,” said Dr. Morris. “Cooling too intensely (for example, immersing the animal in ice or cold water) may cause the blood vessels in the skin to constrict, thus decreasing cooling of the core. It is also important not to drop the temperature below high normal (103°F).”
Though heat stroke can be deadly, patients that survive the initial critical period typically recover. Recognizing the signs early and seeking prompt treatment give your pet the best chance of survival.