July and August are known as the “Dog Days of Summer”. Ancient Romans associated the hottest days of summer with the star Sirius, which they called the “Dog Star” as it was the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major. They believed the star to be the cause of the hot sultry weather. Regardless of the reason, the summer months require pet parents to be extra vigilant and keep their dogs from overheating! Heat stroke is life-threatening, and can take your dog’s life in a matter of minutes.
It’s vitally important in the hot weather that your dogs have constant access to plenty of fresh cool drinking water. Just like us, dogs can become dehydrated very quickly in the heat and need plenty of water to help cool them.
Dogs sweat mainly through sweat pads on their feet, but heat regulation is done through panting. Because of this, it is not often evident when dogs are overheated or require water. Staying cool is especially important if your dog is short-snouted (such as a Pug, Pekinese, or Boston Terrier). It is crucial to keep them in a cool environment because panting is not as effective with these flat faces and they are more susceptible to heat stroke. So, the best place for these types of dogs is in your home in the coolest spot available.
Heat stroke occurs when the cooling mechanisms of the body cannot keep up with excessive external heat, and body temperatures of 106° F (41° C) or higher are reached. Any higher than this can lead to irreversible organ damage and even death.
What are the Best Ways to Prevent Heat Stroke in Dogs?
When walking with your dog, always carry a water bottle and a drinking bowl for your dog.
2. Keep them Cool
Purchase a kiddie pool for your dog. Even if your dog isn’t a swimmer, often they will paddle in the kiddle pool or even lay down in a shallow few inches of water, which is a great way to keep them cool. You can also ladle water onto their backs and chest. Pro tip - if they have thick fur, part it and then ladle the water so you can fully wet their coat and skin!
If a pool isn’t available or is inconvenient, a soaking wet towel placed over your dog’s body will help cool him down. The air movement over the wet towel will have a cooling effect.
There are also a number of cooling jackets on the market that cool through the use of a gel, which is situated inside the lining of the jacket. The jacket is soaked in cold water and the gel swells up to provide a cooling effect.
3. Shaded Areas
If your dog is outside during the heat of the day, it’s important that you provide them with a cool and shady place to rest. Even with a shady spot, access to fresh water is crucial. Better yet, if your dog can enjoy the comfort of your cooler home in the heat of the day, so much the better.
When the weather is hot, save your dog’s daily walks or exercise for early mornings or evenings when it is cooler out and things like hot asphalt are not a hazard to your pet’s feet. If the sidewalk is too hot for your hand to be pressed on for 10 seconds, it's too hot for your pet to walk on! If you must exercise your pup in the warmer parts of the day, swimming is a great way for them to stay cool and get exercise at the same time.
Leave your dogs at home if you are going out, unless you are on your way to a pet friendly destination where you can take them out of the car. Every year, hundreds of dogs expire in vehicles where they have been left in hot temperatures. It only takes minutes for the temperature in a car parked in heat or sun to skyrocket to dangerous levels, and only takes minutes for your dog to succumb to heat stroke.
What are the signs of Heat Stroke?
Dehydration (this can include dry nose, dry mouth, sunken eyes,and thick saliva)
Increased body temperature - above 106° F (41° C)
Reddened gums and other moist tissues of the body
Production of only small amounts of urine or no urine
Rapid heart rate
Stoppage of the heart and breathing
Fluid build-up in the lungs; sudden breathing distress
Changes in mental status
Wobbly, uncoordinated, or drunken gait or movement
Unconsciousness in which the dog cannot be stimulated to be awakened
How is Heat Stroke Treated?
Prevention is best, but early recognition of heat stroke symptoms is important for recovery. If your dog's increased body temperature can be linked to environmental temperature, such as weather, an enclosed room, or exercise, the first thing to do is lower the body temperature. Bringing a pet inside, or out of the hot environment and immersing their paws in room-temperature water is a good first step.
First of all, if you are using water to lower the body temperature, it’s very important NOT to use ice or very cold water. This can cause the blood vessels near the surface of the body to constrict and may slow down the rate of heat dissipation.
Shivering is also undesirable since it is the body’s mechanism to create heat. A gradual lowering of the body temperature is best, and the least dangerous. Offer cool, not cold, water to drink, and allow him to drink freely, but do not force your dog to drink.
External cooling techniques can include spraying the dog down with cool water or immersing his whole body in room-temperature water. You can try wrapping him in cool, wet towels, and/or cooling your pup with a fan. You should stop cooling procedures when the body temperature reaches 103° F (using a rectal thermometer) to avoid dropping below normal body temperature. Calling your veterinarian in these situations is key – they may advise you to come straight down, or to first try some external cooling techniques, so make sure you’ve got their number handy during those long summer days.
Dogs who have experienced heat stroke are more prone to suffering it again, so be ultra-sensitive to the signs of heat stroke moving forward, and be prepared to respond quickly if required.