Veterinary Nurse Laura Hawkins identifies what happens when dogs suffer from heatstroke and how to deal with it.
Heatstroke (also called hyperthermia) occurs when your dog’s body temperature rises above its normal level. The condition is not associated with fever or inflammation, instead heat stroke occurs when the dog’s body can no longer tolerate the external heat conditions, or get rid of excess heat fast enough, and so can occur in all types, sizes and ages of different dogs.
Dogs have minimal sweat glands in the paws and nose but unlike humans cannot sweat alone to get rid of excess heat, and so rely on panting to exhale ‘hot air’ and breathe in cooler fresh air. If cool fresh air is limited, for example in a hot car, the dog struggles to replace the ‘hot air’ and in so doing causes the body temperature to rise. Heatstroke can come on very rapidly and a dog can go from looking settled to collapsed in minutes. If not caught fast enough the heat starts to affect the internal organs and tissue causing severe damage.
Other risk factors include:
- Exercising in an environment that is too hot or humid
- Being enclosed in a warm room like a conservatory
- Being outdoors without access to shade or water
- Being on hot concrete surfaces
- Thick coat
- Underlying heart disease
- Underlying lung disease
If you suspect heatstroke you must contact your vet immediately, but there are some vital tips on instant treatment which could make the difference between life and death. The first step is to remove the animal from the area of concern to somewhere cool whether this be outside in a more open area of fresh air or in an area of shade. Next the dog should be allowed access to cool drinking water and also showered or sprayed with cool water. Do not use ice as although it seems instinctive to make the dog as cold as possible, ice can actually make matters worse by causing the blood vessels to tighten and so making it harder for heat to leave the body. Once the dog is wet a fan can be used to help cool the dog further.
The treatment of heatstroke can be very costly and long with dogs often requiring hospitalisation for long periods of time with high possibilities of lifelong organ damage. This being so, prevention is better than cure. Risk can always be reduced by thinking ahead and planning for the weather on each given day, as well as minimising risk by keeping your dog at a healthy weight. Never leave dogs in cars or confined places of risk. In hot weather only exercise dogs in the morning or evening and carry cool water with you at all times. Sunblock can be used on dogs’ pink-skinned areas such as noses and ear tips, and you can consider clipping long and thick coats.
Finally, do not assume that your dog will stop exercising if they are too hot. Our dogs want to work for us and aim to please and stopping is against their nature. Most dogs will carry on despite heat, feeling unwell or injury, so you need to be in control and make the right decisions in order to keep your dog safe.