Tips for avoiding heatstroke and keeping pets cool

Posted by Dr. Nina Mantione on Aug 12 2010

It was 102 degrees out a few days ago. So hot that even my shivery little Chihuahua, normally a dedicated heat seeker, was panting. Now, that’s hot!

That kind of extreme heat is no joke. We know that it isn’t safe for people to be out in that heat for too long. The local news runs heat advisories and sports events are cancelled. The risk of heat stroke is too high to risk it.

Our pets can suffer from heatstroke too. They are at just as much risk for overheating as we are. One summer, when temperatures reached a record breaking 105 degrees, I saw five dogs suffering from heatstroke on the same day. The signs are unmistakable; extreme panting, distress, red gums and tongue, weakness and collapse. Body temperatures can go higher than a thermometer can read.

It doesn’t have to be extremely hot for heatstroke to occur. It can happen on an ordinary day, if conditions are right. Leaving a dog in a hot car, or restrained in an area without adequate shade or water can lead to overheating – even if the thermometer isn’t pushing the record books.

Dogs cannot sweat. They dissipate heat through panting – cooling themselves via their tongue and airway. This means that our short-faced companions (Bulldogs, Boxers, and Pugs among others) are at much higher risk for becoming too hot. They may be super cute, but their cooling mechanism is inefficient at best and they simply cannot tolerate the heat as well as dogs with normal airways. These guys are better off enjoying the air conditioning on hot days, rather than pushing their luck outside.

So, if you suspect your dog may be developing heatstroke, what can you do?

  • Remove him from the heat as much as possible.

  • Find shade, air conditioning, or a fan.

  • Provide fresh water.

  • Wet him down with a hose if you can to encourage rapid cooling. Do not submerge in ice cold water as this could restrict the blood vessels and prevent the heat from escaping.

  • Take him immediately to a veterinarian. Prolonged high body temperatures can lead to serious problems including organ failure and death.

Getting your dog’s temperature down quickly is a matter of life and death.

Heatstroke is always a risk, but it doesn’t mean you have to keep your dog inside, avoiding the sun like a canine vampire. Instead, use common sense. Enjoy outdoor activities in the cool of the early morning or late evening. Take your pal swimming, or set up a kiddie pool or a sprinkler to keep him cool. Take a lot of breaks indoors and provide fresh cool water. Never leave your dog in a car – even if you don’t think it is very hot. Enjoy the summer and stay cool!