Dogs are notoriously bad at dissipating body heat, so watch for early signs of heatstroke in your dog to avoid serious outcomes as the red hot summer can have dangerous consequences.
Hot temperatures can be bad news for animals, particularly dogs, said veterinarian Dan Hume.
“Dogs really shouldn’t be out exercising in this kind of heat, especially if they’re an at-risk breed,” Hume said.
The most common cause of heat stroke or hyperthermia is leaving a dog in a car with inadequate ventilation. The dog’s body temperature in this situation can elevate very rapidly, often within minutes.
Dogs suffering from heatstroke can have elevated breathing rates, dry or sticky gums, abnormal gum color, bruising in the gums, may appear lethargic or disoriented, and they can have seizures.
Apart from heat stroke, pets exposed to hot asphalt are at risk of burning the soles of their feet, said veterinarian Kate Killian.
She recently treated some animals that had escaped from their homes and burned their feet on the pavement, she said.
On a day with temperatures in the upper 90s the surface temperature for both asphalt and concrete can easily top 130 degrees.
“The general rule of thumb is if you can’t hold the back of your hand on the pavement for more than 10 seconds, then your pet shouldn’t be walking on it,” Killian said.
There are plenty of ways to keep pets safe, including limiting exercise to the early morning or late evening, providing plenty of water, and using garden hoses, kiddie pools, and fans to cool pets down, Hume said. Preventing pets from escaping is also key, Killian said.
Heatstroke in dogs is life-threatening and can also result in very serious complications. There are early signs of heatstroke that you can be alert to that may help you remedy the condition before things get too serious.
Early signs of heatstroke include heavy panting and rapid breathing, excessive drooling, dry mucous membranes, bright red gums and tongue, skin hot to the touch, and a higher heart rate. Affected dogs become hyperactive and may have difficulty maintaining balance.
As exposure to excessive heat goes on, the dog’s condition worsens and includes signs of shock: pale mucous membranes with white or blue gums, very rapid heart rate, and a drop in blood pressure. The dog hyperventilates, and dehydration becomes more severe.
Pupils dilate, the pulse becomes more irregular, and the dog has muscle tremors; he may become lethargic and unwilling to move; urinate or defecate uncontrollably; collapse, and become comatose.
Dogs have only a couple of ways to cool off: blood vessel expansion and panting. When dogs pant, they evaporate moisture from their tongues, nasal passages, and the lining of their lungs, and this cools them down as air passes over the moist tissue.
They also cool off via vasodilation. Blood vessels, especially in the ears and face, expand – bringing overheated blood closer to the surface to cool down. The bottom surfaces of paws can sweat, but not enough to make a difference.
“Heatstroke usually occurs when high ambient temperature overcomes the dog’s ability to dissipate heat. The degree of damage is determined by how high a body temperature is reached and how long the animal is exposed,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer at the American Kennel Club.
Heat stroke is a term commonly used for hyperthermia or elevated body temperature.
Generally speaking, if a pet’s body temperature exceeds 103°F (39.4°C), it is considered abnormal or hyperthermic.
Body temperatures above 106°F (41°F) without previous signs of illness are most commonly associated with exposure to excessive external or environmental heat and are often referred to as heat stroke.
The critical temperature where multiple organ failure and impending death occurs is around 107°F to 109°F (41.2°C to 42.7°C).
It is important to remember that dogs cannot control their body temperature by sweating as humans do since they only have a relatively small number of sweat glands located in their footpads. Their primary way of regulating body temperature is by panting.
Other common causes of heat stroke include being left in a yard without access to shade or water on a hot day, being exposed to a hair dryer for an extended period of time, and excessive or vigorous exercise during hot temperatures. Excited or excessively exercised dogs are sometimes at risk even if the environmental temperature and humidity does not seem high. This is particularly true if dogs are kept in a poorly ventilated environment or a dog house.
Dogs with a restricted airway such as brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced dogs such as pugs, boxers, and bulldogs) are at greater risk. In these breeds, clinical signs of heat stroke can occur when the outside temperature and humidity are only moderately elevated.
Dogs that are muzzled for any reason can be at greater risk since their ability to pant is restricted by the muzzle.
Hyperthermia is an immediate medical emergency.
Safe, controlled reduction of body temperature is a priority. Cool water may be poured over the head, stomach, armpits and feet, or cool cloths may be applied to these areas.
Use cool, but not ice-cold, water to reduce your dog’s body temperature.
If using cool wet cloths, these should be continually replaced, or they will start to retain heat. Ensure a continuous flow of air across the dog to help increase evaporative heat loss until treatment is received at your veterinary hospital.
Although of questionable benefit, rubbing alcohol may be applied to the footpads to dilate pores and increase perspiration. Using ice packs is controversial as they may contribute to reduced blood flow to the skin surface where heat exchange can take place. Intravenous fluids, mild sedation and low-concentration oxygen therapy are also commonly used to treat heat stroke.
The dog’s rectal temperature will be monitored and treatment discontinued once the dog shows signs of recovery or the temperature has fallen to 103ºF (39.4ºC). If cooling is not discontinued, then the patient could develop hypothermia (dangerously low body temperatures).
If the body temperature did not become extremely high, most healthy pets will recover quickly if they are treated immediately.
Some pets may experience permanent organ damage or may die at a later date from complications that develop as a result of hyperthermia.