Recently, we’ve had a couple of nice warm, sunny days here in Bolton and it got me pondering the perennial concerns relating to dogs and hot weather.
We all know that dogs die in hot cars thanks to excellent campaigns by the RSPCA, Dogs Trust, PETA and other animal organisations; what often gets overlooked is the fact that dogs die needlessly from heatstroke on warm days in parks, houses and gardens too.
In this article I’ll attempt to outline some of the facts surrounding dogs and overheating. Why and how it happens, the signs of overheating and what to do if your dog is overheating. Please take time to read and share this article, it may help to prevent the needless suffering of a loved pet.
A dogs core temperature
The average core temperature of a healthy dog is considered to be 38°C (101°F); however, the normal temperature of a healthy dog may range from 37°C to 39°C (99 °F to 102.5°F). A core temperature of over 39°C (103°F) is considered abnormal and requires immediate action. At 41°C (106°F) a dog will be suffering from heat stroke which can lead to multiple organ dysfunction and ultimately death.
Some dogs are more at risk to overheating than others, but at The Way of the Dog we consider this information superfluous to the need for education on overheating and heat stroke in dogs. We believe that all dog owners should be aware of the signs of overheating and heat stroke and be aware of the actions they need to take.
The causes and effects of overheating
There are many medical and physiological causes of overheating. As this article is related to the heat of a summer day we will focus only on these causes, but the symptoms and required actions are the same whatever the cause.
By exposing a dog to excessive environmental heat and humidity, excessive exercise or a combination of both heat and exercise your dogs core body temperature will begin to rise. His mind and body will respond as he attempts to regulate it.
First, he will attempt to remove himself from the heat source by finding shade and/or stopping exercising. His blood vessels will dilate bringing hot blood close to the surface allowing it to cool. He will begin to sweat from the pads of his paws and will pant to bring air into his upper respiratory system to evaporate water from his mouth, tongue, throat and lungs thus dissipating heat. He will need to drink a lot of water to compensate for this evaporation. You should assist him to achieve this reduction in temperature by stopping exercising immediately and by providing shade, a breeze and plenty of cool fresh water.
In most cases this is enough to allow the dog to slowly reduce his core body temperature to it’s normal level. You should continue to monitor him for further symptoms and respond accordingly.
When overheating leads to heat stroke
If your dog is not removed from the heat source, is continued to be exercised and/or is unable to access enough water his temperature will continue to rise above 39°C (103°F). As he struggles to overcome the heat this starts a series of reactions that are difficult to stop, even if the animal eventually gets his temperature down. Heat stroke causes his organs and body systems to be affected and shut down, possibly leading to the death of your pet. By 41°C (106°F), irreversible damage will have occurred.
Symptoms of heat stroke
- Body temperature above 39°C (103°F)
- Severe panting
- Sudden breathing distress
- Lying down and won’t get up (panting may have ceased)
- Excessive drooling
- Reddened gums and moist tissues of the body
- Diarrhoea, sometimes bloody
- Vomiting, sometimes bloody
- Rapid heart rate
- Irregular heart beats
- Weak rapid pulse
- Changes in mental status
- Lack of awareness of surroundings
- Staggering, appears blind or drunken
- Muscle tremors
Treatment of heat stroke
Your objective here is to gradually reduce the dogs core body temperature; reducing it too quickly can cause further problems for your dog. Use cool, not cold water. Never use ice or iced water.
- Remove your dog from any external heat sources. Find a shaded, well ventilated area that is close to a water source.
- Provide the dog with plenty of cool, fresh drinking water. Do not force it to drink but you can moisten its tongue and mouth if it is lying down and panting.
- Spray cool water over the dogs coat and rub in to the skin. Continue spraying.
- Wrap the dog in cool wet towels, replacing them regularly.
- Immerse the dog in cool water.
- Use a fan to create a breeze.
- Call your vet and explain what is happening and that you will be coming in.
If possible, you should monitor the dogs temperature and stop cooling once it returns to 39°C (103°F). Whilst continuing to monitor its temperature, you should now get your dog to your veterinary surgeon as soon as possible. Take wet towels/spray bottles for the journey to keep him cool.
Your pet will have undergone severe stress to its body and organs. Your vet will will need to examine your dog to check that its temperature has been reduced and has stabilized, and that no long lasting damage has taken place. Complications, such as a blood-clotting disorder, kidney failure, or fluid build-up in the brain will need to be immediately and thoroughly treated.
At The Way of the Dog, we sincerely hope that this article has provided you with some essential advice on recognising and acting upon any signs of overheating in dogs. There are 4 key elements to remember:
- Be aware of putting your dog in a situation or environment where overheating is possible.
- Always monitor your dog for signs of overheating.
- Act to reduce the temperature of an overheating dog quickly and effectively.
- Always consult your vet if overheating has occurred and any of the symptoms of heat stroke have been displayed.
Enjoy the summer. Enjoy your dog.
Contribution by Matthew@HeppinessWebDesign
Sources and further reading:
Various articles at www.petmd.com
Temperature of a Healthy Dog (1999) – Jie Yao Huang (Janice)
Thermoregulation in Dogs and the Dangers of Hyperthermia for the Layperson (2011) – Jerilee A. Zezula, D.V.M.