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Heatstroke in Dogs

Tips to avoid overheating your dog

MetPet.com Staff Writer

Whether you are melting in New York, steaming in Chicago or sticking your head in the fridge in L.A., your dog is feeling the heat even more than you are.  Dog do not perspire as we do.  When we sweat, water evaporates off of our skin helping to cool us and regulate our body temperature.  Dogs do not have that ability and need our help to keep themselves cool. 

Dogs control their body heat primarily through their nose and tongue.  Air brought in through the nose is heated and then exhaled through the mouth.  Although they "perspire" somewhat from the pads on their feet, most of the excess heat is released when they pant.  A dog that cannot bring in air through its nose and release it through its open mouth will overheat and die.

A dog's normal body temperature is around 100 degrees.  At 105 degrees brain damage can occur.  When a dog's internal temperature reaches 110 degrees, he will usually die. 

Very young and very old dogs, sick dogs, anaesthetized dogs and those with short muzzles like bulldogs and pugs are less able to control their temperature through panting and are, therefore, more susceptible to heatstroke.  Dog with darker coats will soak up more heat from the sun than those with lighter colored coats and are also more susceptible to heatstroke.  Dogs with double coats designed for cold weather such as Bernese Mountain Dogs are especially susceptible to hot weather problems.  Even a dog with a short coat such as Mastiffs can have a combination of characteristics: heavy body weight and short muzzle that can make them very uncomfortable in the heat. 

Note: Although it seems counter-intuitive, it is argued by some that heavily-coated northern breeds are well-insulated by their double coats against both the heat and the cold.  Since dogs do not perspire through their skin, the coat acts to insulate the dog from the air temperature and shaving the hair will only reduce their ability to maintain their body temperature. 

Staying cool at home
Your dog needs shade and plenty of water if he is outside but, on really hot days, he needs to be inside with the air conditioning.  Heat rises so he will be cooler downstairs rather than upstairs.  Rooms with northern exposure will be cooler than those with, say, western exposure.  Houses that are shaded by trees or awnings will be cooler than those exposed to the sun. 

Some dogs may retreat to the cool tiles in a bathroom or the concrete floor of the garage.  A small downstairs bathroom may be the coolest room in the house and may be ideal for your panting pooch.  A basement that stays temperate all year around may also be an excellent place to lounge. 

Staying cool while exercising

In the summer, limit strenuous exercise to before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. to avoid the hottest times of the day.  Provide your dog with water at all times.  On really hot and humid days, just some short walks may be all you or he can take.  If you have a choice, take your long walks or dog park jaunts in the morning.  On long, hot summer days it may be the middle of the night before the effects of the afternoon sun have dissipated. 

Black asphalt, or even concrete and stones can soak up the sun and get extremely hot.  Before walking your dog on suspect surfaces, just reach down and touch it.  If it is uncomfortably hot for you, it could be painful for him.  Walking him on grass or dirt can really make a difference.

Look for shaded walks through forests or even in the shade of tall buildings or tree-lined streets.  If you can find a place with water and cooling breezes, that is even better. 

Hydrate
If you suspect your dog is not drinking enough water, you can make water more interesting by adding some sugar or even beef or chicken flavored stock.  You can try freezing some fruit or using a plastic tub to freeze some meat flavored stock or sweetened liquid for him to lick.  Stick to wet dog food or add water to kibble.  You can try some fresh salad which is full of water. 

Some dogs may enjoy playing or simply lying down in a baby pool.  Try looking for the heavy plastic variety instead of the inflatable kind.  A second or two of 'digging' in the water can tear a hole in lightweight plastic. 

Avoiding the car
If you might have to leave him in the car, it is best to leave him at home.  Even when the outside temperature is 75 degrees, the inside of a closed car in the sun can reach 120 degrees in 30 minutes or less.  A crack in the window IS NOT sufficient even when you are parked in the shade.  

Signs of trouble
Excessive panting, salivating, vomiting, staring, anxiety and an increased pulse rate can all be signs of heatstroke.  On a very hot day, if you suspect that something is wrong, consider heat stroke as the culprit. 

If you suspect heatstroke
Take your dog to a vet immediately.  If that is not possible, get a hose and soak him with cool water.  Alternatively, place him in a cool bath to bring down his temperature or cover him with wet towels.  Use cool, not ice cold water to bring his temperature down slowly and safely.  Placing him in front of a fan can also help particularly if you wet him down with water first. 

Related Information:
Watering the Dog
Preparing for Hot Weather

 
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