Heatstroke: A Swift Killer
By Michele Forto
With the rise of summer temperatures, it is extremely important to prevent your dog from overheating. Dogs cannot tell you when their temperature rises and it is our responsibility to ensure that our pets have sufficient shelter from the sun, adequate water to drink, and a way of cooling off when the summer sun rises.
Monitoring your dog closely in high heat is not enough however. It seems that pet owners tend to drop their guard when the temperatures level off, either in the spring and fall, and owners think the danger has passed. You should always keep in mind that exercise and subsequent confinement, whether in a hot car, crate or doghouse is enough to send your dog’s body temperature skyrocketing. Confinement is the greatest perpetrator. Never leave an animal in a parked car in warm weather—even for a short period of time with the windows open. Although you and your pet would like to be together, during the hot summer months it’s much kinder and safer to leave him at home.
A dog’s body temperature is normally between 101°F and 102°F. Dogs regulate their body temperature by panting, drawing air over the moist membranes of the nose and tongue and cooling by evaporation. If a dog can not expel the heat fast enough, his body temperature rises. A rise of 3 degrees to a temperature of 105°F is all it takes to send your dog into a dangerous situation. At this temperature, the dog can no longer cope with reducing his body heat and the oxygen demand goes up to where the dog can not keep up, and his temperature continues to rise.
When the temperature hits 108°F, the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and intestinal tracts start to begin breaking down at a cellular level, and the damage can progress at an alarming rate. Even immediate treatment and effective cooling to bring his temperature down can leave the dog with internal damage that may affect his health in the long term.
Rapid breathing, dry mouth and nose, rapid heart rate, and gums that look dull, grayish-pink, or red, are all early stages of heat stroke. These symptoms can be followed within minutes by collapse, seizures, coma and death. You must take emergency action as soon as possible. Get the animal into cool—not cold—water. (Cold water causes tiny blood vessels in the skin to collapse, preventing cooled blood at the skin level from traveling to the core of the body were it is really needed.) Get the pet into a cool shower or give him a cool water rubdown right away. Cooling the body back to normal is often not sufficient to save his life, so you must also rush your pet to a veterinarian for continued treatment.
If you see an animal in a car exhibiting any signs of heat stress, don’t hesitate—take action! Call your local animal care and control agency or police department immediately!
This article is provided as a general overview of the topic. Always consult your veterinarian for specific information related to diseases or medical care for pets.