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Overheating in dogs is not something to take lightly. As the weather heats up, it's important to remain aware of how the heat affects your pup. Heat exhaustion in dogs can lead to serious and potentially fatal conditions such as heat stroke and cardiac arrest. To help keep your dog safe and cool during the summer, here is the lowdown on signs that they’re overheating and how to prevent it: hint, a little water does wonders for keeping your pup cool.
Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Unlike people, dogs don't sweat out excess body heat. While your dog does have a few sweat glands located in their paws, these do little to help regulate the body temperature. Instead, dogs do this through rapid, open-mouthed breathing, called panting. But sometimes panting isn't enough to keep them from getting overheated.
Heat exhaustion in dogs can occur when the body temperature becomes elevated above the normal temperature. This varies slightly, according to PetMD.com, but it's generally agreed that temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius and higher are above normal. If the temperature continues to rise and reaches 41 or higher, your pup is in the danger zone for heat stroke, during which the organs begin to shut down and their heart could stop altogether.
Fortunately, it's not difficult to spot signs of overheating in dogs. Excessive panting is the first symptom. A dangerously overheated dog, according to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, may collapse or experience convulsions, exhibit vomiting or diarrhoea, and may also have gums or a tongue that turn blue or bright red. You want to identify the problem before it gets that severe to intervene and prevent serious overheating. Early signs are more subtle - it may be as simple as your dog seems less responsive to commands than usual. When you call their name, instead of turning to look at you, they may wander away. If there is any question at all, get your dog out of the heat. The Humane Society of the United States adds that signs of potential heat stroke include glazed eyes, excessive drooling, a rapid heart rate, dizziness or lack of coordination, fever, lethargy, and loss of consciousness.
While all dogs are at risk for overheating if the conditions are right, some breeds are more prone to it than others. This includes dogs with thick coats or long hair, very young or very old dogs, and brachycephalic breeds—those with short noses and flat faces, such as shih tzus, pugs, boxers and bulldogs. Overweight dogs and those that suffer from medical conditions that cause difficulty breathing or heart problems are especially susceptible.
Extremely active dogs and working or hunting breeds (such as shepherds, retrievers, and spaniels) are also at a higher risk, especially during warm months. You should be careful to not push these dogs too hard, so make sure they get plenty of breaks to rest in the shade and that they are well-hydrated at all times.
Environmental factors can also place a dog at risk. Be aware not just of high temperatures, but also of high humidity, which can increase the chance of heat exhaustion in dogs. All dogs are at increased risk of overheating if they're not given adequate shade or another cooler place to relax indoors. And dogs left in a hot car are in serious danger of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
At the first sign of overheating, immediately take action to cool down your dog. Vetstreet recommends the following steps to treat heat exhaustion in dogs:
- Immediately move your dog to a cooler area, either indoors where there is air conditioning or in the shade under a fan.
- Use a rectal thermometer to check their temperature. Heat exhaustion typically occurs when a dog's temperature falls between 39 and 41 degrees. A temperature above 41 places them at risk for heat stroke. If they’re in the danger zone, call your veterinarian.
- If you're near a body of fresh water, such as a lake or a baby pool, let your dog take a dip to cool down. Otherwise, you can use cool, wet cloths or towels to help them out. Place your cool wet cloths on their neck, armpits, and between their hind legs, and you can also gently wet their ears and paw pads with cool water.
- If they’re conscious and willing to drink, give them cool, fresh water. Don't force it, as it may end up in their lungs. If they can't or won't drink, or can't keep water down, wet their tongue with water instead. Don't feed them ice cubes, which could cause their temperature to drop too quickly, leading to shock.
- Get them to the vet. If you haven't already done so, call ahead so they can be ready to take immediate action as soon as you arrive.
Of course, the best cure is prevention. You can help keep your pooch from overheating with some basic safety practices. These include limiting exercise or outdoor activity on excessively hot or humid days, providing plenty of shade and water when your dog is outdoors, and never, under any circumstances, leaving your pet in a parked car—not even in the shade with the windows rolled down. On mild days with temperatures in the 20s, the inside of a parked car can reach close to 50 degrees in minutes, making this an extremely dangerous environment to leave your dog in, even for a short time.
If your pooch has energy to burn and needs some form of exercise in order to stay calm, take them swimming or let them run and play in a sprinkler before heading back indoors. You can also use a cooling body wrap or vest to help keep them cool without getting them wet. And if your dog has long hair or a thick coat, consider getting them a short haircut to get through the hot months—just be sure to leave enough fur to protect their skin from the sun.
Additionally, if you take your dog on long walks it might be better to take them during the cooler hours of the day such as early in the morning or later in the evening (keep in mind hot sidewalks and pavement can burn their footpads). Be sure to keep water with you and let them take a break every once in a while. If you run with your dog make sure not to overdo it. Just as hotter temperatures make it harder for you to stay hydrated on a nice run, it's even more true for your pup.
If you'll be hiking with your dog, or if they have a job to do such as herding sheep or cattle, be sure to give your dog several breaks in the shade and make sure they have plenty of fresh water. Consider wetting them down or using a cooling vest while they’re active, and keep a close watch on them for the first signs of overheating. Remember that working dogs tend to become so focused on their tasks that they don't realise when they need to rest and cool down. It's up to you to monitor your dog and make sure they get the breaks they need to stay healthy.
Finally, don't forget to put a plan in place for keeping your dog cool if the power goes out or the air conditioner stops working. As uncomfortable as you might be under such conditions, it's even worse for your dog, whose body temperature is already much higher than yours. If you plan to retreat to someplace cooler, be sure they’ll also be welcome. Otherwise, consider leaving them at a kennel until it's safe for them to return home to cooler conditions.
Armed with the knowledge of how to recognise overheating, how to respond and how to avoid it in the first place, you can look forward to a safe, fun and happy summer with your four-legged friend.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent and pet blogger from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.