By Laura McLain Madsen, DVM
The weather is getting warmer so it’s time to be aware of the risks of heat stroke in our pets. Any animal—or person—is susceptible to heat stroke, but we see it commonly in dogs. Normally, dogs get rid of excess body heat by panting (as saliva evaporates from the mouth and tongue, the dog is cooled), by contact with a cool surface (such as lying on tile), or by wind blowing across the body. Anything that interferes with these heat-loss methods can cause heat stroke.
Dogs that are at increased risk of heat stroke include:
- Elderly or ill
- Smush-faced dogs like English and French Bulldogs, Pugs and Boston Terriers (they cannot pant as efficiently)
- Thick fur
- Dark-colored hair coat
- Dehydration (reduces evaporation from panting)
- No access to shade and water
- High environmental heat
- High environmental humidity (reduces evaporation from panting)
- Pre-existing breathing problems such as laryngeal paralysis or collapsing trachea
- Pre-existing heart problems
- Previous episodes of heat stroke (surviving heat stroke “resets the thermostat” in the brain)
No matter what the cause(s) of heat stroke, the result is that the dog cannot get rid of excess body heat. The core body temperature can rise to 107 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. (Normal dog body temperature is around 100-102.) When the body temperature goes above 107, the heat causes death of body cells, leading to kidney failure, liver failure, blood clotting abnormalities, brain damage, and stomach and intestinal damage.
Symptoms of heat stroke include heavy raspy panting, collapse, red gums, weakness, vomiting (possibly bloody), and diarrhea (possibly bloody).
If you think your dog may have heat stroke, immediately cool him with water. This might include spraying him with a garden hose, splashing him with lake water, submerging his legs and body in a pool, or dumping water on him from a canteen or drinks cooler. Use whatever is available to you.