Heat Stroke: The Warning Signs
From boonDOCS Medicine
On long hikes or days at the beach, do you make sure your dog slows down and takes a drink? Do you take your dog for long runs for exercise through the city or your neighborhood? On hot days as well as humid days, be mindful that your dog is at risk of heat stroke, a life threatening condition.
Heat stroke is caused by your pet’s inabililty to cool themselves. Dogs only have sweat gland on their paws. Not enough to help cool their body temperature down. They mainly get rid of body heat by panting. Sometimes, panting is not enough to cool themselves when they are continually active or if their enviroment is hot and humid. Make sure you allow your dog to take breaks to drink water to help with his cooling. If he has been running or playing without taking a rest, make them take a 10 to 15 break in the shade.
Heat stroke typically occurs when the dog’s body temperature is over 106 F (normal is 99F to 102.5F). At such high body temperature the cells and organs in the body can no longer function, causing multi system and organ failure. The kidneys can stop making urine, the liver can stop detoxifiying the body, and they can loose the ability to have normal clot formation. Obese animals and those with thick hair coats are at an increased risk. The short nosed or squish faced dog breeds (including bulldogs, pugs, shih tzus, lhasa apsos, etc.) are especially predisposed. Their smaller nostrils, shorter noses, and other changes in their upper airway make them higher risk breeds for developing this condition. That being said, any active dog can develop this life threatening disease.
Older dogs with changes to their barks or a roaring sound to their breathing can also have a higher risk of developing heat stroke. Changes in bark and or changes to the sound of their panting can indicate a problem with their larynx, the trap door protecting their wind pipe. If the larynx is unable to properly open, it diminishes the amount of hot air they can blow off. Any changes to the bark or breathing noises in older dogs should be immediately addressed PRIOR to warmer temperatures. Dogs with laryngeal paralysis can develop heat stroke just by going outside on a hot humid day for 15 to 20 minutes in the yard.
Humidity and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation (cars without the windows down) can also increase the risk of heat stroke to your dog. Thus, a humid day, even if it is not particularly sunny, can precipitate heat stroke just as easily as a 100° sunny day. Animals shut in cars without the windows down can suffer from heat stroke even on a cool day.
Signs of heat stroke are varied and include heavy panting, increased noise while breathing (wheezing type sounds), gagging or coughing, drooling, bright red gum color, red-purple splotching on the skin or gums (petechia), shaking, lethargy, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, shock, coma and sudden death.
If you believe your dog is exhibiting signs of heat stroke take IMMEDIATE action! Help cool your dog by hosing them down, placing a wet towel over them, or offering them water to drink if they are able to. If a vehicle is close by, place the air conditioner on high and drive safely to the nearest emergency hospital. Unless the car has been well-ventilated don’t put your dog in a hot car. Heat stroke patients can die from being placed in a hot car that’s been parked in the sun all day. Roll down the windows, blast the AC, and get the enviormental temperature down. Placing ice on your dog is not recommended due to the shock it can cause your pet. Do not delay getting your pet to an emergency hospital for IV fluid therapy and supportive care. Carry your dog to your car as quickly as possible while cooling him. This is a time sensitive emergency.
How can I avoid heat stroke:
- Remember to take frequent water breaks and rest in the shade. For large breed dogs, even a 30 minute jog in the summer can lead to heat stroke.
- If you do jog or exercise with your dog, make sure it’s early or late in the day when the outside temperature is lower
- If you own a breed with a squished face, don’t take them for hikes or jogs on warm days. Talk to your veterinarian to see if your pet has a higher risk of over heating based on his nose and throat exam.
- If you hear a change in bark or change in the sound of your dog’s pant, have a laryngeal exam prior to any activity in warm weather.
- If you are at the beach, remember that drinking ocean water (i.e., SALT water) will only make things worse for your dog. Stop him from drinking salt water and offer him fresh water. Also remember that the sand can get very HOT! Don’t take your dog to the beach if you yourself can’t walk barefoot comfortably on the sand.
- Always make sure they have shade and fresh water available.