How to treat heat stroke in dogs

How to Prevent and Treat Heat Stroke in Dogs ?

Dogs are known for their insufficient heat regulation of their body. As an owner, one of the most important things to watch out for are the early signs of heat stroke in dogs, which is also called hyperthermia, to avoid potentially dire outcomes.

What is a heat stroke or hyperthermia in dogs ?

Hyperthermia is a condition where the dog’s body temperature goes above and beyond the normal parameters of 101.5 F, resulting in a high fever. If the body temperature goes above 105 F then the dog may be suffering from a heat stroke.

Dogs are only equipped with two ways to cool off and regulate body heat, which are panting and blood vessel expansion. What happens when a dog pants is that they evaporate moisture from their tongues, nasal passages and the lining of their lungs, in turn this cools them down as air passes freely over the moist tissue.

Another way they can cool off is through vasodilation, their blood vessels, especially those in the ears and face, expand which brings the overheated blood closer to the surface to cool down.

They only place where dogs can sweat is on the underside of their paws. This however is not enough to make a difference and offers only a slight ease to the heat. Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterynary officer says: “Heat stroke usually occurs when high ambient temperature overcomes the dog’s ability to dissipate heat. The degree of damage is determined by how high a body temperature is reached and how long the animal is exposed”.

What are the signs of heat stroke ?

Hyperthermia, or heat stroke, in dogs can result in some serious complications and can ultimately be life threatening. However, if you catch the early signs of heatstroke, you can be alerted to remedy the condition before things take a more serious turn.

Some of the early signs of heat stroke in dogs include excessive drooling, heavy panting, rapid breathing, bright red gums and tongue, skin being hot to the touch, dry mucous membranes and a higher heart rate. The dogs that are affected by this may also become hyperactive and may have difficulty in maintaining balance.

If the exposure to excessive heat continues on, the dog’s condition will only worsen and then show signs of shock such as white or blue gums with pale mucous membranes, drop in blood pressure and very rapid heart rate.

The dog will continue to hyperventilate, and the dehydration becomes more severe. Their pupils dilate, their pulse can become even more irregular, they will begin to have muscle tremors, may become lethargic and not willing to move, they can even urinate and defecate without control, until they ultimately collapse and become comatose.

Factors that contribute to a heat stroke in dogs

Heatstroke is more common than you may think and generally happens during the hottest times of the year, more so when the weather is humid.

Some of the contributing factors are the following:

  • Their breed. Heatstroke can be experienced by all breeds; however, it is more common in long haired and short nosed breeds.
  • Their age. Both very young dogs and older dogs are more susceptible to hyperthermia.
  • Their physical fitness. Dogs that are generally not active are vulnerable when they use up a great deal of energy in a really hot environment
  • Their weight. Both overweight and obese dogs are more likely to suffer than normal weight dogs.
  • Their medical disorders. Diseases and conditions such as hyperthyroidism, cardiac disease, and laryngeal paralysis may also contribute to heatstroke.
  • Their environment: One of the most common causes of heatstroke in dogs is being confined in a closed car. The temperature inside that car can become dangerously high very quickly and the aftermath can be fatal. Other contributing factors of heatstroke include being confined in an exercise pen without any access to fresh water and in direct sunlight, dogs being left caged for a longer period of time with the cage driers on them left unchecked.
  • Access to water: Restricted access and not drinking enough of water causes overheating.
  • Acclimation: A sudden change into a warmer climate can also cause heat stress.

How to treat dogs with heat stroke

To remedy heatstroke you need to immediately upon spotting the signs to try to lower the dog’s body temperature to an acceptable number. Once you notice your dog exhibiting signs, drop everything that you are doing and help them cool down by either walking or carrying them to a cool and well ventilated area, spraying or sponging them with tepid or cool water especially on their underside, it would be counter productive to immerse them in cold water though, and by using a fan to blow cool air on them.

Take your dog’s temperature if you happen to own a rectal thermometer, and even if the temperature is less than 105 F then you should still consider this an emergency and take your dog to the vet immediately. However, if the temperature is higher than 105 F, firstly try to cool the dog down, and after a few minutes try to take their temperature again. Do not under any circumstances reduce their temperature to below 103 F as it may cause it to descend to critical levels.

Once their temperature reaches 103 F, take them immediately to the veterinary clinic. Dogs that have been severely affected need a lot of fluids, medication, oxygen and support in this situation. Although complications may not occur immediately, it is still important to let your vet determine the type of treatment you should follow up with.

How to re-hydrate your dog

To rehydrate your dog offer them an electrolyte solution that will return their electrolyte balance in order. If the dog is severely dehydrated or unable to drink, it should be put on a drip, which will replenish the dog’s fluids.

How to prevent a heat stroke in your dog

Timing is everything in this situation. Taking immediate action and correctly treating them can mean the difference between a quick and complete recovery and long term serious complications. Some vets even advise that once a dog has experienced heatstroke once, they are more likely to experience it again.

As man’s best friend, dogs love to please their humans, even if that means taking a jog or playing a game of catch during the hottest times of the day. This means that it is entirely up to you to keep the weather in mind and to limit the time that your dog exercises when the temperatures rise significantly. Pick a cooler time of day for their daily exercise or play sessions and always provide them with access to fresh water, shade and frequent rest periods.

Never, ever, leave your dog in the car, even though it may miss you, it’s better to leave it at home rather than in a boiling hot car.

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