Summer is just around the corner, and that means dog parks, long walks and the typical game of fetch for most canines who’ve been laying low through the winter. Tis the season of sun, sand, and bonding between man and his best friend. With the splendor of summer, however, comes the threat of overheating, which is capable of fatality in many dog species. Follow our advice to keep your dog happy, healthy and out of the hands of heatstroke.

Heat Stroke in Dogs?

Heat Stroke is the result of excessive heat gain surpassing a dog’s ability to dissipate heat. Heatstroke causes an increase in a dog’s body temperature, which can cause chemical reactions that lead to dehydration, blood thickening and even brain damage, organ failure or death. This condition is typically caused by high temperatures in the environment that have one of two effects: a decrease in a dog’s ability to dispel excess body heat or an increase in its body temperature.

It’s important to remember that just because you may be comfortable with the temperature doesn’t mean that your dog is. Dogs differ from human beings in that they cool down using their nose and tongue. Dogs only have a few sweat glands on their feet, so rather than sweating to cool off, they pant in order to direct air over the tongue, which facilitates cooling by evaporation of heat and fluid. It’s important to note that dogs with flat faces have a more difficult time losing heat, as well as do large dogs. When a dog’s cooling system is overwhelmed, heat exhaustion and ultimately heatstroke can set in.

The normal body temperature of a dog is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat exhaustion can set in if body temperatures rise to 105 or 106 degrees, and heatstroke is possible at degrees of at least 107. It is known that at 110 degrees internal organs will be affected, and seizures, comas, and death are likely.

Risk factors

There are a variety of risk factors for heat stroke, including environmental factors like:

  • Rapid exposure to high temperatures
  • An inadequately ventilated space
  • High humidity levels
  • Limited or no access to water or shade

As well as characteristics of the dog, such as:

  • Obesity
  • Old age
  • Puppyhood – six months of age or younger
  • Thick fur
  • Respiratory problems
  • Overexertion
  • Illness
  • Short, wide head
  • Flat face

Oftentimes, heatstroke in dogs is able to be put to an end with minimal lasting effects, but only if proper action is taken.

Signs of overheating / Heat Stroke

During the spring and summer months, it’s imperative to monitor your dog and watch for signs of heatstroke. The following symptoms are a sure sign of overheating in your dog:

  • A sluggish, disoriented or unresponsive demeanor
  • Hard panting
  • Glassy eyes
  • Red eyes, tongue or gums
  • Thick, sticky saliva
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizure
  • Collapsing
  • Unconsciousness

Taking action for Heat Stroke

If you observe any of the above symptoms, take action immediately. Before calling a vet, there are some steps you can take to preserve your dog’s life and safely lower its body temperature.

 First, attempt to cool your dog down as fast as possible. 
  1. Immediately remove your dog from any source of heat, sunlight or humidity and check his temperature with a rectal thermometer.
  2. If your dog’s temp is less than 105 degrees, he may only need some rest and a cool environment. If his temp is 106 degrees, it is better to fully immerse the dog in cool water, and if temps exceed 106 degrees, immediately being cooling your dog before calling a veterinarian right away.
  3. When cooling, apply towels soaked with cool water to your dog’s head, neck, chest, and abdomen. Avoid cold water, because it could cause skin injury, trigger blood vessels to contract and trap overheated blood at the body’s core or even lower the temperature of your dog to a dangerous degree.
  4. You may also want to lay your dog in front of a fan.
  5. For dogs with significantly high body temps, consider placing your dog in a wading pool or bathtub full of cool water. Spraying your dog with a garden hose will work as well.
  6. If the case of heatstroke is severe, you should see a vet as soon as possible. If the case is mild, continue cooling and monitoring your dog until his temperature is 103 degrees F, then STOP.
  7. It is recommended that once any dog begins to recover from heatstroke that they are brought to the vet for an exam. Even though your dog may have reached a safe temperature, there are effects of heatstroke that can occur even days after the overheating episode.

Prevention of Heat Stroke in Dogs

The best way to save your dog from heatstroke is by prevention. Heatstroke is usually always preventable with a little common sense and tips like these:

  1. Don’t overexert your dog in the heat of the day or without breaks, water and a shady place to lie down. Think about exercising your dog in the morning or late evening. Also be aware of hot asphalt, as it can severely burn your pooch’s paws.
  2.  If taking your dog to a park, the beach or for a walk, make sure to have an inexhaustible supply of water—for you and your dog.
  3. Prepare for the worst when out and about by packing a cooler full of water and ice as well as a small, battery-powered fan and a couple towels. If heat exhaustion strikes, you’ll be prepared.
  4.  When leaving your dog home for the day, it’s best to leave him in the comfort of the air conditioning or a fan if possible. If your dog spends his days outside, make sure he has a spot that will maintain shade all day.
  5. If your dog prefers the sun, make sure to apply sunscreen to his belly and the top of his nose—the most susceptible places for sunburn. Dogs, especially those with light skin, can be irritated by sunburn and even develop melanoma.
  6. Make sure your dog has plenty of cool water to drink. Check his water dish throughout the day to make sure evaporation is not leaving your dog thirsty.
  7. On hot days your dog’s underside needs the most attention, so keep a wading pool full of cool water for your dog to play in, or spray his belly with the hose every now and then.
  8. If you’ll allow your dog in the family swimming pool to cool down, make sure he is comfortable swimming and can easily climb out using stairs, the deck, ladder, etc.
  9. NEVER leave your dog in a parked car. A parked car can reach 160 degrees F in a matter of minutes, even with open windows. Within 30 minutes, the temperature of a parked car, midday, can reach lethal temperatures. Either leave your pup home when you know you’ll be making a pit stop or leave the air conditioning on while your dog sits inside the vehicle—Use two sets of keys: one to leave the car running and one to unlock the car when you return.
  10.  Give your dog a trim to keep him cooler. While shaving a dog completely risks sunburn, cutting the fur to about one inch can significantly cool body temperatures. If you prefer not to trim, try to brush out as much undercoat as you can.
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  11. Understand that not all dogs respond to heat the same way. Observe how your dog behaves on a normal day so that on extremely hot days you can assess whether or not he is acting unusual. Does he pant a lot? Does he need occasional breaks, or does he require them often? How often does he try to find shade? If you know how your dog responds to heat, you will be better able to cool him down and keep him comfortable.

Remember that summer isn’t the only time of year that heatstroke can strike. Spring and early fall can be just as warm for dogs as the summer months, especially if they are still sporting their winter coats. Take the same precautions in these seasons as you would in the summer.