What is Heatstroke?
The medical term for heatstroke is heat prostration or hyperthermia, which means an increase in core body temperature caused by environmental conditions. The normal body temperature for a dog is around 99-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If a dog’s body temperature gets above 105, this becomes life-threatening.
What are the Most Common Reasons that we See Heat Stroke?
- When dogs are left in hot cars
- When dogs are strenuously exercising (hiking, running, or hunting)
- When dogs are left outside for an extended amount of time in the hot and humid weather
How Do I Know if My Dog Has Heat Stroke?
Almost every system in the body can be negatively affected by heatstroke. Did you know that dogs don’t sweat like humans do? The way they dissipate heat is by panting or breathing rapidly. Sometimes this mechanism just isn’t enough to get rid of all the extra heat built up and heatstroke occurs.
Here are some signs to look for with heatstroke:
- very rapid heartbeat
- acting off, as if in a stupor
- excessive panting
- bright red, blue, or dark tongue and/or gums
- bloody diarrhea
If you notice ANY of these signs, take your pet to a veterinarian immediately. This is a true veterinary emergency. This time is critical! While in transport to the vet, try to cool your pet down with cool, (NOT ice cold) wet towels on their abdomen, paws, and neck. Don’t leave the towels on your pet, as it will only act as an insulating blanket to keep the warmth in. Also, make sure NOT to use super cold water. This will shock the system and cause vasoconstriction, which actually will keep your dog warmer.
What You Can Do to Prevent Heat Stroke:
- Never leave a dog alone in a car, not even in the shade with the windows cracked: Studies have shown that even on cooler days, the temperature inside a car can rise by as much as 40 degrees within one hour
- Some breeds of dogs are actually more susceptible to heatstroke. The most prone breeds, due to their compromised airways, are what I affectionately call the “squishy-faced” ones (aka brachycephalic!), such as English and French bulldogs, Boston terriers, boxers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Shih Tzus and mastiffs. If you own one of these, be EXTRA careful about the situations you put them in. What may not cause heatstroke in a different dog, may cause heatstroke in your squishy-faced dog.
- If you must leave your dog outside for hours in the heat, be sure to provide plenty of shade and water. A baby pool for a dog left outside may help, as they can cool themselves down by jumping in! There are also special cooling vests for dogs available that can help.
- There are some conditions that may predispose a dog to heat stroke, including being overweight and heart conditions. Be sure to keep your yearly checkup with your veterinarian to address chronic diseases early on.
- Remember that working dogs (or even professional squirrel-chasing dogs, like my own) may get so focused and into their job that they forget to rest. They may also get so excited in a new environment while hunting or hiking that they won’t want to take a break. Remember that it is up to you as an owner to help your dog know when to stop and cool down!