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How To Recognize And Prevent Canine Heat Stroke

canine heat stroke

Canine heat stroke is a dangerous but entirely preventable illness.  It happens more frequently now during summer.  Let’s look at what it is, how to recognize it, how to treat it, and how to prevent it.


What is it?

It’s basically extreme overheating.  Dogs can only cool themselves by panting and releasing heat through the pads of their paws, so when either of these processes isn’t enough they heat up quickly.  This happens most commonly when they are left somewhere they cannot cool down, like a hot car or a concrete run without shade.  It can also occur when dogs overexert themselves on warm days.  
Dogs’ normal body temperature is about 101 degrees, give or take a degree.  When it gets to 105 or above, that’s heat stroke territory.  Their body starts to break down, right down to cells, muscles, and organs.  If not treated immediately, it can be fatal.
Dogs with short snouts, like Mastiffs and Bulldogs, are especially susceptible.  Overweight dogs and dogs recovering from illness or surgery are also at risk of heat stroke.

What are the symptoms?

Here’s what to look for if you think a dog is suffering from heat stroke:
   •  High temperature (105 degrees and above)
   •  Heavy panting 
   •  Dark red gums
   •  Heavy drooling and/or foaming at the mouth
   •  Thick saliva
   •  Dizziness and disorientation
   •  Unwilling or unable to stand up
   •  Diarrhea and/or vomiting

What should you do if your dog has heat stroke?

Early treatment will give your dog the best chance at recovery.
   1)  Get the dog to a cool area immediately.  Find a spot that is shady, preferably without a hot surface that will continue to heat your dog’s paws.  
   2)   Pour cool, not cold, water on your dog.  Dogs’ blood vessels are close to the surface of their skin, so this helps cool the blood in the vessels.  It might seem logical that cold water would do the trick quicker, but it may cause the blood vessels to constrict, decreasing blood flow and making the problem worse.  
   3)  Offer your dog small amounts of cool water, but do not force him to drink if he doesn’t want any.
   4)  Call your vet.  A vet can check for damage, provide IV fluids to rehydrate your dog, and provide oxygen.  Your vet can also check for and either treat or prevent other illnesses that can occur as a result of heat stroke, even after your dog has cooled down.  

How do you prevent it?

This is the easy part!  Here are 5 simple do’s and don’ts to protect your dog:
   •  DO provide your dog with a cool, shaded area and plenty of water at all times.
   •  DON’T leave your dog in the car – even just for a few minutes.  The inside temperature of cars soars beyond outside temperatures quickly.
   •  DO use supplies like a cooling dog bed and a cooling dog bandana if you know your dog is at risk of heat stroke.  It works by cooling the blood vessels and will help keep body temperature at normal levels.
   •  DON’T encourage physical activity when it’s hot.  Many dogs don’t know when to stop.  Exercise early or late in the day when it’s cooler.
   •  DO leave your dog at home if he doesn’t need to be out with you. 
In 2010, a popular Phoenix businessman left his dog in his car on a 104-degree day while he watched a movie at one of his theaters.  Completely unnecessary – and the cops that found his dog thought so too. They gave him a citation for animal neglect.  Don't be like that guy.
There you have it:  how to recognize, treat, and prevent heat stroke in dogs.  It’s such a dangerous illness, and so easily preventable, that no dog should ever have to suffer through it.
Please share this with other dog owners – it might save a life.
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Photo credit:  Dane Khy

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