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Heat Stroke in Dogs

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: May 21, 2018
Heat Stroke in Dogs

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Heat stroke is a serious condition in which a dog it is not able to dissipate heat with sufficient speed and its body temperature rises to dangerous levels that can damage multiple organs and even cause the dog's death. This disorder is not the same as fever. In fever, the temperature increases as a body's response to injury and infection. By contrast in sunstroke temperature rises because the dog cannot remove the heat generated by its own body or heat that it receives from the environment.

Since this is a serious disorder, sunstroke should be treated immediately to avoid major damage and the death of the dog. Unfortunately, most of the time symptoms are not recognised until it is too late. It is therefore important to recognise the symptoms of heat shock but more important to recognise the causes and know how to avoid this risk to the health of our dogs.

In AnimalWised we will give you the keys to detect the symptoms sunstroke in dogs as well as its treatment or the first aid we should offer.

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Causes and risk factors

Dogs are susceptible to sunstroke because they do not have a very efficient system for regulating their temperature. They cannot remove heat by perspiration and their main heat regulating mechanism is gas exchange through breathing. This is why they pant when they do intense physical activity.

Dogs who have a greater risk of this disorder are:

  • Those who are restricted to very hot environments without the possibility of shelter from high temperatures (locked cars, locked in sun-exposed areas with asphalt or concrete floor, locked in rooms without adequate ventilation, etc.).
  • Dogs who live in very hot and humid places.
  • Dogs that are acclimatised to high temperatures.
  • Those with heart or respiratory illnesses that affect efficient breathing.
  • Those who do excessive exercise (hyperactive dogs, working dogs, etc.)
  • Very young and very old dogs.
  • Dogs with a history of sunstroke.
  • Longhaired breeds.
  • Molosser breeds (boxer, bulldog, bulldog burgundy...)
  • Dark-coloured dogs.
  • Obese dogs.
  • Dogs subjected to intense stress (e.g., subjected to physical abuse, fights, etc.).
  • Dogs wearing muzzles in stressful situations (can happen when the dog is being groomed, when travelling by car or any other situation that causes stress. This can also cause the dog to vomit and choke on its vomit.)
Heat Stroke in Dogs - Causes and risk factors

Symptoms of sunstroke in dogs

Symptoms suffered when a dog is suffering of sunstroke are as follows, do not miss:

  • High body temperature
  • Signs of anxiety
  • Excessive and fluctuating gasps
  • Excessive drooling
  • Frothing at the mouth
  • Dry and sticky gums
  • Forced or laboured breathing
  • Tachycardia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscular lack of coordination
  • Tremors
  • Very red gums
  • Small blood stains on the skin

In the advanced stages symptoms include:

  • Apathy
  • Weakness
  • Inability to move
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
Heat Stroke in Dogs - Symptoms of sunstroke in dogs

Consequences

The consequences depend on the time elapsed from the temperature rises, the first aid and the treatment given to the dog. This can range from dehydration without much impact to the death of the animal. The consequences of sunstroke may include:

  • Salts loss
  • Internal bleeding
  • Liver failure
  • Renal insufficiency
  • Stroke
  • Multiple organ damage
  • Coma
  • Death

First aid and treatment

If you suspect your dog is suffering sunstroke you have to go to the vet as soon as possible. Ideally, at that moment you contact your veterinarian, explain the situation and let him or her tell you how to proceed. However, if you cannot communicate with the vet you have to reduce your dog's body temperature gradually. For that you can use the following options:

  • Take your dog immediately to a shady spot where it can cool off.
  • Soak it with fresh water slowly, never use ice cold water as it could suffer shock, using a hose, a sprinkler or immersing its body in a bath or tub (do not submerge its head and take care not to get water through the nose or mouth).
  • Check your dog's rectal temperature with a thermometer and stop cooling your dog when it reaches 39 ° C. From that temperature your dog can self-regulate its body heat and you do not want to cause hypothermia due to the continued cooling of your pet.

Note that you should not dip your dog in ice or ice water. The water used to lower the temperature should be tap water or be at about 20ºC. Icy water causes vasoconstriction and that reduces heat dissipation. In addition, frozen water can also cause tremors in your dog, which will increase its body temperature rather than reduce it. During the trip to the veterinary clinic you can wet your dog with cold water using a spray.

It is important that the heat gradually dissipates, so do not try to get it down immediately by submerging it in ice or other very drastic procedures. Very sudden changes in body temperature can cause problems with internal organs.

Once in the veterinary clinic treatment will depend on the condition in which your dog is. There is no specific treatment for sunstroke, but it is common that the environmental temperature is regulated, serum is applied and that they have the dog in the clinic for some time. The outcome may be favourable or not, depending on the damage suffered by the dog.

Heat Stroke in Dogs - First aid and treatment

Preventing sunstroke in dogs

While it is good to recognise the symptoms that produce sunstroke, it is better still to know how to avoid this veterinary emergency. For that consider the following tips:

  • Do not lock your dog in hot environments, such as a car on a sunny hot day, a sunny room with little shelter, a garage, a terrace without shade, a patio with asphalt or concrete floor, etc.
  • If you live in a very hot place prevent your dog from exercising in hotter hours and avoid walks at noon.
  • When your dog does intense exercise or play with great intensity be sure to force it to take rest periods. Most dogs can play or run until they suffer a thermal shock.
  • Offer it a space with shade.
  • If your dog is desperately trying to escape a stressful situation and makes a lot of physical effort to do so, immediately take it to somewhere that this situation does not happen and calm it down.
  • Supply it with good food and good care.
  • Put at its disposal plenty of clean that is always fresh, especially if you find yourself in a warm place.

Of course, these tips are more important for dogs that live in warm, moist places, for brachycephalic dogs (flat face and snub nose) and for very young and very old dogs. However, they are valid for all dogs.

Please take special care to never leave your dog locked in the car. The interior of a car is heated very quickly and a few minutes may be sufficient for your best friend to suffer a fatal stroke.

Heat Stroke in Dogs - Preventing sunstroke in dogs

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Heat Stroke in Dogs, we recommend you visit our First aid category.

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