Heat stroke is a common serious disease of pet dogs at this time of year. Most people are aware of the risk to dogs left in cars on sunny days. Many vets have directly encountered cases of dogs dying in hot cars. However, cars are not the only dangerous places. There are potential problems whenever a dog is left in an enclosed space with no shade or no water on a sunny day. Additionally, when the dog is excited or very active e.g. at a dog show or after heavy exercise, the internal heat produced by muscular effort has an additive effect to the high environmental temperature, and heat stroke may result.
Dogs do have sweat glands in the pads of their feet but the most important heat-losing process is panting. The breathing becomes rapid and short ( up to 400 breaths per minute), the mouth is opened and the tongue becomes enlarged as its blood supply is increased. The movement of air causes evaporation of water from the surface of the tongue, which carries with it excess heat from the body. Panting is an extremely effective process of heat loss, but it uses large amounts of water, which is why it is essential that dogs have access to plenty of fresh water in hot weather.
It is important to be aware of the symptoms of heat stroke, so that affected animals can be identified and treated as soon as possible. The most obvious signs that a dog is overheating are panting and an increased pulse rate. Affected dogs stand still, looking anxious, panting rapidly, and unable to do anything else. They feel hot to the touch and the body temperature may be over 104’F, and up to 109’F. If a dog is not treated, the body temperature will continue to rise until the dog collapses. Vomiting and diarrhoea may occur, the dog enters a coma, and will often die. This is a situation where first aid can be life-saving. Obviously, the first thing is to remove the dog from the overheated situation – get into the shade and out of the sun. The dog should then be immediately immersed in a bath of cold water. If this is not possible, soak the dog with cold water either from a hose or using a bucket. The skin should be massaged vigorously, and the legs flexed and extended, to maximise the blood flow to skin and limbs.
The owners should rush the dog to the vet as soon as possible after a 10 minute cold bath. The vet will be able to give other treatment to bring the temperature back to normal.
TEN RULES FOR DOGS IN HOT WEATHER
- Never leave a dog alone in a car
- Be aware of keeping your dog cool when on car journeys together e.g. leave a window open for fresh air etc.
- Always ensure a plentiful supply of drinking water.
- Never leave a dog in a sunny place with no shade.
- Give long haired dogs a short clip.
- Exercise the dog out of the heat i.e. morning or evening.
- Take your dog for a cool swim rather than a walk.
- Give your dog 10% less food than normal.
- Give the meals at cooler times of the day e.g. morning and evening.
- Carry water with you on hot days, and give your dog frequent small amounts.
Always consult your veterinary practitioner for advise on caring for your pets.