Avoiding Heat Stroke in Dogs

by Dr. Ashley Gray

After going on a long hike with my dog Louis recently, it finally hit me that the warm weather is here to stay! It has been in the steady 80-90’s now for a few weeks here in the Carolina’s, which means we are out & about more than ever. With the rise in temperatures comes the humidity, and it can be really tough on our dogs outside for extended periods of time. Louis is an athletic breed, but he does have a longer coat paired with black fur that can make him overheat quicker than average. I noticed about halfway through our hike that he was slowing down and panting much harder than the first mile. You may be thinking…hey, my dog can handle it just fine. I’m sure they can…sometimes, but heat stroke is a real life threatening issue with dogs, so it is important to be aware of it.

The best way for our dogs to expel heat is through panting. This can be very effective for most dogs, however, certain breeds have been bred for an appearance that sets them up for respiratory difficulty. You probably guessed I am referring to the “brachycephalic” dogs or bulldogs, pugs, etc. We have bred them for their cute wrinkly face, which in turn has caused these breeds to have a much more difficult time in warmer weather. Last summer was my first time as a veterinarian out in the real world. I saw at least a handful of English Bulldogs come in to our clinic with a temperature > 105°F. Unfortunately, none of them survived despite aggressive treatment in our ICU.

Heat stroke is due to the inability of our dogs to cool off, causing internal temperatures to rise. Once their internal temperature gets to a certain point, multiple organ dysfunction can occur.

Signs to Increase your Suspicion of Heat Stroke:AGR Heat Stroke

Excessive panting
Excessive drooling
Reddened gums
Black, tarry stools
Rapid heart rate
Vomiting blood
Wobbly gait
Seizures
Pinpoint areas of bleeding under the skin
Abnormal mentation

 
If you have the ability to take their temperature, anything > 102.5°F is abnormal. If it is only mildly increased (102.5°F-103.5°F), you can try to cool your dog off by blowing fans on them or rinsing them with room temperature water (NEVER COLD WATER). If their temperature is >104°F or you notice multiple signs from the list above, it is in your pet’s best interest to see a veterinarian immediately.

How Do We Avoid Heat Stroke?

  • Bring a bowl and plenty of water with you on extended walks or hikes. Offer it as often as their panting/activity level calls for.
  • Let them rest in the shade in 10 minute intervals based on how strenuous the activity is on them.
  • Consider shaving your dog’s hair-coat in summer if longer coated.
  • Use a harness instead of a neck lead on longer walks.
  • If you have a brachycephalic breed, decrease the time of your walks and pay close attention to how they are breathing. Minimize their exposure to the hottest part of the day by walking them in the early morning or late evening.
    • If you own a brachycephalic breed, you can always see your regular veterinarian for advice or a consult as there are certain surgeries that can be performed on bulldogs, pugs, etc to help them breathe better, if indicated based on their anatomy.

Part of the fun of having a dog is enjoying the beautiful outdoors together! It is important to know that heat stroke can happen to your dog so we are mindful of it as the temperatures continue to rise.

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