A Summer Guide to Heat Stress and Heat Stroke for Dog Owners

Jun 23, 2020 | Dogs, Emergency Situations

As we get into summer and the temperature rises, it’s important to be aware of how the heat affects your pup. Please read below to recognize the signs of heat stress and know when you should seek veterinary care for your pet.

I’m comfortable outside. Why is my dog so hot?

Unlike humans, dogs do not sweat to cool their bodies (except a small amount through the paw pads). Instead, dogs primarily regulate their temperature through their mouth, by panting. This can be very ineffective, however, when the temperature gets over 80 degrees or when a dog is in direct sunlight.

What’s more, excessive panting can even lead to respiratory exhaustion because your dog is breathing as rapidly and with as much effort as possible. So, if your dog is a brachycephalic breed (bulldog, pug, boxer, etc.), is overweight, has a thick coat, or has other preexisting conditions such as heart disease, they are much more susceptible to heat stress.

How do I know if my dog is getting too hot?

Often the first signs of overheating are vague. Your pet may seek shade, become restless, whine or become vocal, or appear to have trouble breathing. A rectal temperature of 104-106 degrees indicates heat stress. A temperature of 106 or over is consistent with heat stroke. However, if the weather is hot and your dog is displaying any of the above symptoms, it is best to follow the directions below.

What should I do if I think my dog is too hot?

The first thing you should do is get into the shade or an air conditioned area. A shaded concrete or tile floor works great as a cool surface for your dog to lie on. Offer your dog water but do not force them to drink. Allow them to lie on the cool floor in the shade or air conditioned room for 20 minutes before attempting to get them up.

When should I take my dog to the veterinarian?

Take your dog to the veterinarian if it’s been 30 minutes in the shade or air conditioned room and they are still panting, restless, or if you notice any other abnormal behavior (wheezing, staggering, vomiting).

What is heat stress vs. heat stroke?

The term heat stress describes when a dog gets too hot for a short period of time, but is able to cool off efficiently and does not have any severe consequences other than mild dehydration or lethargy.

The term heat stroke doesn’t technically refer to a “stroke”, but to other more serious side effects of overheating. During a heat stroke your dog’s entire body becomes too hot. Skin, internal organs, vasculature, muscles, and nerves are all affected.

What are signs of heat stroke?

During heat stroke we can see a very wide variety of clinical signs. Often the first clinical signs we see are vomiting and diarrhea. This can quickly progress to hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (bloody vomiting and diarrhea). Kidney and liver enzymes can be elevated due to direct heat as well as dehydration. We can see abnormalities with blood clotting due to vasculitis (inflammation of the arteries and veins).

In the most severe cases where temperature is over 106 degrees for more than 20-30 minutes we can see neurologic signs such as inappropriate mentation or even seizures.

What is the treatment for heat stroke?

Treatment for heat stroke is what we veterinarians call supportive: We treat whatever clinical signs we are seeing to the best of our ability. The first goal is to get your dog’s temperature in the normal range with cooling measures (IV fluids, ice packs, fans). After that we check your dog’s blood work and blood clotting times to assess any damage that may be present. Medications given can include antiemetics (which treat nausea and vomiting), antibiotics, and even blood or plasma transfusions in severe cases.

What are the long term consequences of heat stroke?

Our goal is for your dog to live a normal happy life even after a severe heat stroke. Sometimes residual kidney or liver damage may be present after heat stroke. Unfortunately we do see patients that do not make it through treatment after severe heat stroke. The best thing you should do is try to prevent heat stroke from happening

What can I do for my dog to prevent heat stress and heat stroke?

If the temperature is over 90 degrees, do not let your pet outside for more than 10 or 20 minutes. And, make sure they are monitored during that time. If you spot any signs of heat stress, as mentioned above, bring your dog back inside and let it rest for the remainder of the day.

Always make sure your pet has access to fresh, cool water while outside and always has a shady place to relax. If your pet is one of those brachycephalic breeds we mentioned earlier (bulldog, pug, boxer, etc.) be very careful outside with them when the temperature is over 70 degrees. Walk or play with your pets early in the morning or later in the afternoon before it gets too hot outside.

Call us immediately if your dog is experiencing symptoms of heat stroke!

Remember VETSS is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week and on weekends and holidays. Give us a call if you’re ever worried about your pet overheating and we are happy to chat with you or see your pet.

– Dr. Edie Oliver

For more information, contact our team at VETSS, a Charlottesville VA urgent care animal hospital!

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