What Is Canine Heat Stroke?

Hundreds of dogs die every year because their owners underestimated what happens in a car during a "quick trip". It's a sad fact that most of these deaths could be prevented.

We asked Vet Jenny to chime in on heat stroke: what is it, how to avoid it and what to do if it happens to your dog. Here's what she had to say:

What is heat stroke? 

Heat stroke is when an animal’s body temperature exceeds 106F (41°C) from an external heat source such as a hot and sunny day. This can be a life threatening condition because when the body reaches such high temperatures it compromises the function of vital organs, leading to organ failure and death!

Causes of heat stroke

It’s important to know what the causes of heatstroke are so that you can keep your furry family member safe from heatstroke! The most common causes of heat stroke are spending too much time outside on a hot, sunny day or leaving your pet in the car on warm days.

Spending an excessive amount of time outside on a hot day may seem like an obvious no-no, but it can be hard to tell how hot is too hot. A way to determine if it is too hot for your pet to be outside is by using the “Seven-Second Rule”. This involves placing the back of your hand on the asphalt for about 7 seconds. If you are not able to tolerate 7 seconds of your own hand on the asphalt, then it’s too hot for their paws!

As for the car, leaving your pet in an unattended car is never recommended, unless you are able to control the climate of your car safely while they are inside. This is not recommended because, the temperature in a car elevates very quickly. For instance, when the temperature is a mere 75F (24C) out, in just 10 minutes the car temperature will rise to 94F (34C)! Often pet parents will assume that parking in the shade will remedy this problem, but that is not true! Parking in the shade has such little effect on decreasing a car’s temperature, so your pet will still be susceptible to overheating. These may seem like obvious causes that can be avoided, but unfortunately heat stroke occurs quite commonly! 

Additionally, certain breeds of dogs are more susceptible to heat stroke than others. Breeds with short noses that are commonly referred to as brachycephalic are predisposed to over heating. These breeds include but are not limited to; Bulldogs, Pugs and Chihuahuas. Dogs with thick hair/fur are also at higher risk of heat stroke such as; Samoyed, Huskies and Pomeranians, etc. These breeds should be monitored very closely during hot summer days.

Symptoms of heat stroke

To prevent your pet from overheating you should know the symptoms to watch out for. The symptoms of heat stroke may include, but are not limited to:

  •         Tacky & abnormally coloured gums
  •         Increased respiratory rate (breathing frequency)
  •         Excessive panting
  •         Drooling
  •         Lethargy
  •         Disorientation
  •         Seizures
  •         Collapse/unconsciousness

What to do if you suspect your pet has heat stroke

Since heat stroke is a life threatening condition, it is vital to take your pet to the nearest veterinary hospital immediately. In the meantime, remove your pet from the heat source; bring them inside into air conditioning. Offer your pet water. Then you can slowly start to decrease their body temperature by applying cool water or cool clothes on their paws, abdomen and head. You should not use cold water. Additionally, a fan can be utilized to allow for them to receive cool airflow to further reduce their body temperature.

Tips to prevent heat stroke

There are many ways to keep your pet nice and cool in the hot summer months, to ensure that they don’t suffer from heatstroke. These include:

  • Walking your dog in the morning or evening- this keeps them out of the hot afternoon sun, but still allows them (and you!) to enjoy walks!
  • Avoid pavement by walking on grass and trails- pavement holds heat very well on hot days, protect their paws by choosing surfaces that don’t retain as much heat like grass, gravel and dirt.
  • Protect their paws by using paw balm- this can provide a barrier between their paw and hot surfaces, but hot surfaces should still be avoided as much as possible.
  • Cooling vests/booties- many apparel products are specifically designed for cooling pets! Usually, they work by soaking them in cool water prior to your pet wearing them, so it keeps them cool while outside.
  • Cooling mats- there are a few beds on the market that are geared towards keeping your pet cool. They are filled with water and act like a cool little waterbed!
  • Purchase a kiddie pool- many dogs love to lounge in water on a hot day. Purchasing a kiddie pool is a cost effective way to allow them to enjoy a little cool down in their very own backyard.
  • Always provide access to shade and water!
  • Follow the “Seven-Second Rule” mentioned above
  • Do not muzzle your dog in the heat- the main way that dogs regulate their body temperature is by panting. When wearing a muzzle, they are not able to pant, or perhaps pant properly, this means that they won’t be able to cool themselves down, leading to overheating!

Be sure to keep these tips in mind during warm days, to keep your pooch safe from heat stroke! Remember, if you suspect your pet is suffering from heat stroke; take them to your local veterinary hospital immediately.

For more information on doggy health, check out these articles:

What Are the Recommended Dog Vaccination Guidelines?

What Are the Benefits of Walking My Dog?

Why Does My Dog Pee When Someone Pets Her?

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