Preventing heatstroke in dogs

Heatstroke in dogs can be fatal. Find out how to prevent it and what to do in an emergency this summer.

What is heatstroke?

Summer means longer days, warmer weather and more time outside playing with your dog. However, it’s important to remember that dogs can be much more sensitive to the heat than us, with heatstroke being one of the most common illnesses during the warmer months.

Dogs regulate their temperate by sweating through their paw pads, noses and panting. This means they’re much less efficient at cooling themselves down when things get too hot.

Heatstroke happens when they’re no longer able to regulate their temperature and their internal body heat becomes dangerously high, usually around 40°c. Heatstroke can be fatal if left untreated, so emergency first aid is essential to cool them down.

Breeds with thick fur, short noses and dogs with pre-existing medical conditions, such as obesity, are at a higher risk of heatstroke. Similarly, extremely active or working dogs are more susceptible. However, it’s important to remember that any dog can develop heatstroke and should be watched carefully during hot weather.

 

What are the signs of heatstroke?

The symptoms of heatstroke in dogs include:

  • excessive panting
  • excessive thirst
  • barking or whining
  • very red gums
  • drooling more than usual
  • rapid heart rate
  • lethargy
  • vomiting or diarrhoea
  • staggering, weakness or collapsing.

If you spot any of these signs, emergency treatment is needed straight away.

 

  • 40°C - the temperature at which your dog can no longer regulate their body temperature.
  • 43°C - the temperature inside your car after half an hour on a mild, 23°C day.
  • 10 minutes - the time it takes for the inside of your car to hit 43°C when it's 32°C outside.
  • 54°C - the temperature your car will reach after 30 minutes in 35°C weather.
  • 'Not long' - the time it takes for your dog to suffer from potentially fatal heatstroke.

Don't leave your dog in a hot car this summer.

 

How to treat heatstroke

If your dog is suffering from heatstroke, take them to your nearest vet immediately; be sure to call them to let them know you’re on your way. They’ll also advise you on what to do next, based on your dog’s symptoms and how far away you are from the practice.

You’ll need to cool your dog down as quickly as possible to lower their internal temperature:

  • Take them out of the heat and into a cool environment.
  • Use lukewarm water to cool them down: cold water or ice will constrict their skin’s blood vessels, making it harder for them to lose body heat.
  • Stand them in water and shower them with a hose all over their body.
  • Soak towels in water and lay them over your dog. If driving to the vet, open the windows to allow a cool breeze.
  • Let your dog drink as much water as they want, but don’t force them.

Even if they’ve sufficiently cool, dogs still need proper veterinary care to maintain their blood pressure, monitor for further complications and treat signs of shock.

 

How to prevent heatstroke in dogs

The best cure is always prevention, so keeping your dog cool and hydrated is the best way to prevent heatstroke.

Try and limit exercise and outdoor activities in very hot or humid weather and provide plenty of shade and water. Switch up your walks so that they occur at the cooler times of day, i.e. early morning or late evening. You could set up a sprinkler or let your dog splash about in a shallow pool to keep them keep cool while having fun.

Never leave your dog in hot, confined areas such as a car, even with the windows open. Even on mild days, the temperature inside a car can skyrocket to 50°c within minutes.

Keep thick, long-haired breeds trimmed regularly (although remember to leave enough fur to protect their skin from sunburn).

Dogs also need to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated in the heat. Check out our advice for keeping your pet hydrated.

For more advice about keeping your dog cool in the heat, speak to your local Medivet practice.

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