Hyperthermia is a term describing an elevation in body temperature. This increase can occur as a response to a trigger, such as inflammation in the body or a hot environment. When a dog is exposed to high temperatures, heat stroke or heat exhaustion can result. Heat stroke is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Once the signs of heat stroke are detected, there is precious little time before serious damage – or even death – can occur. Dogs do not sweat through their skin like humans – they release heat primarily by panting and they sweat through the foot pads and nose. If a dog cannot effectively expel heat, the internal body temperature begins to rise. Once the dogʼs temperature reaches 41° damage to the bodyʼs cellular system and organs may become irreversible.
Signs of Heat Stroke
Increased rectal temperature (over 40° requires action, over 41° is a dire emergency) Vigorous panting
Dark red gums
Tacky or dry mucus membranes (specifically the gums)
Lying down and unwilling (or unable) to get up Collapse and/or loss of consciousness
Dizziness or disorientation
What to do if You Suspect Heat Stroke
If you have even the slightest suspicion that your dog is suffering from heat stoke, you must take immediate action.
First, move your dog out of the heat and away from the sun right away.
Begin cooling your dog by placing cool, wet rags or washcloths on the body – especially the foot pads and around the head or use the hose to completely wet the body from head to tail. ( Avoiding water in the mouth or in the nose)
DO NOT use ice or ice cold water! Extreme cold can cause the blood vessels to constrict, preventing the bodyʼs core from cooling and actually causing the internal temperature to further rise. In addition, over-cooling can cause hypothermia, introducing a host of new problems. When the body temperature reaches 39.5°, stop cooling.
Offer your dog cool water, but do not force water into your dogʼs mouth.
Call or visit your veterinary clinic right away – even if your dog seems better. Internal damage might not be obvious to the naked eye, so an exam is necessary (and further testing may be recommended).
Tip: recruit others to help you – ask someone to call the vet while others help you cool your dog.
Preventing Heat Stroke
There are ways you can prevent heat stroke from happening in the first place.
NEVER leave your dog alone in the car on a warm day, regardless of whether the windows are open. Even if the weather outside is not extremely hot, the inside of the car acts like an oven – temperatures can rise to dangerously high levels in a matter of minutes. Avoid vigorous exercise on warm days. In Barbados, we have seen heat stroke/exhaustion even in the early mornings at 6am. When outside, opt for shady areas.
Keep fresh cool water available at all times.
Certain types of dogs are more sensitive to heat – especially obese dogs and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds, like Pugs and Bulldogs. Use extreme caution when these dogs are exposed to heat.
Other dogs more susceptible would be those with longer coats eg: Akitas, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers and Mastiffs.
Soak your dog either prior to or immediately after walking or exercising.
Ensure you have water to give to your dog during your walks or exercise
DO NOT take your dogs for walks or exercise during the peak times when it is hottest outside eg: 10am-4pm
During summer, contact your groomer to trim your dogʼs coat shorter especially removing the undercoat which can be quite thick.
Some dogs can recover fully from heat stroke if it is caught early enough. Others suffer permanent organ damage and require lifelong treatment. Sadly, many dogs do not survive heat stroke.
Prevention is the key to keeping your dog safe during warmer weather.