Dogs are notoriously bad at dissipating body heat. Watch for early signs of heatstroke (also known as hyperthermia) in your dog to avoid serious outcomes.
When a dog’s internal body temperature goes above a normal temperature of 101.5 Fahrenheit (F), this is a fever and is called hyperthermia. When the body temperature is above 105F, the dog may be suffering from heatstroke.
Dogs have only a couple of ways to cool off: blood vessel expansion and panting. When dogs pant, they evaporate moisture from their tongues, nasal passages, and the lining of their lungs, and this cools them down as air passes over the moist tissue. They also cool off via vasodilation. Blood vessels, especially in the ears and face, expand – bringing overheated blood closer to the surface to cool down.
The bottom surfaces of paws can sweat, but not enough to make a difference. “Heatstroke usually occurs when high ambient temperature overcomes the dog’s ability to dissipate heat. The degree of damage is determined by how high a body temperature is reached and how long the animal is exposed,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterinary officer.
Heatstroke in dogs is life threatening and can also result in very serious complications. There are early signs of heatstroke that you can be alert to that may help you remedy the condition before things get too serious.
Early signs of heatstroke include: heavy panting and rapid breathing, excessive drooling, dry mucous membranes, bright red gums and tongue, skin hot to the touch, and a higher heart rate. Affected dogs become hyperactive and may have difficulty maintaining balance.
As exposure to excessive heat goes on, the dog’s condition worsens and includes signs of shock: pale mucous membranes with white or blue gums, very rapid heart rate, and a drop in blood pressure. The dog hyperventilates, and dehydration becomes more severe. Pupils dilate, the pulse becomes more irregular, and the dog has muscle tremors; he may become lethargic and unwilling to move; urinate or defecate uncontrollably; collapse and become comatose.
Heatstroke generally occurs during the hottest part of the year, especially when it is humid. Contributing factors include:
Heatstroke therapy involves immediately trying to lower the dog’s body temperature. If you notice signs of heatstroke in your dog, it’s critical to stop any activity and help your dog cool down by:
If you have a rectal thermometer, you should take your dog’s temperature. According to Dr. John Hamil, DVM, if the temperature is less than 105F, you should still consider this an emergency and immediately take your dog to your veterinarian. If the temperature is higher than 105F, try to cool the dog down, and after a few minutes retake the temperature. Don’t reduce the temperature below 103F, because the temperature may descend to critical levels.
Immediately take your dog to your veterinarian as soon as the temperature reaches 103F or if you are unable to reduce the temperature significantly. Severely affected dogs require fluids, medication, support, and oxygen. Complications may not occur immediately, so it’s important to let your veterinarian determine the type of follow-up treatment required.
Immediate action and correct treatment is so important because it can mean the difference between a swift and complete recovery and long-term complications. Some veterinarians also advise that once a dog has experienced heatstroke, it is more likely to reoccur.
Our dogs live to please us, and if we ask them to jog or hike or play catch, they’ll do it with enthusiasm – even on the hottest days. So it’s up to you to keep the weather in mind and limit the time your dog exercises when the temperature soars. Choose cooler times of day for play or training sessions. Always provide plenty of cool fresh water, shade, and frequent rest periods when it’s hot. And never leave your dog in the car – he may miss you, but he’ll be better off waiting for you at home.
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