Heatstroke is a very serious condition which not only affects humans, but dogs, too. While dogs often recover from mild cases, severe heatstroke can have devastating consequences, including seizures, brain damage, organ failure, and even death.
Knowing what to do in an emergency could save a beloved pet’s life.
What is Heatstroke?
Heatstroke occurs when the body overheats. In dogs, this is typically categorised as a core body temperature of 41 degrees celsius or higher. At these elevated temperatures, the body is unable to function as needed, and begins to shut down.
Many cases of heatstroke in dogs are caused by physical exertion in hot weather, such as midday walks on summer days. However, heatstroke can also be caused by prolonged periods in hot environments, such as conservatories that have been heated by the sun all day, or hot cars. Under the Animal Welfare Act, owners can be charged with a criminal offence for leaving dogs in their vehicle.
Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs
Unfortunately, many owners believe that they do not need to know about the symptoms of heatstroke in dogs because the weather rarely gets warm enough to pose a risk. However, research suggests that heatstroke in dogs can occur at temperatures of just 16 degrees, which means it’s essential to know what to look for.
Early signs of heatstroke in dogs may include:
- Excessive breathing and heavy panting
- Restlessness, pacing, or unusual anxious behaviour
- Excessive drooling and sticky saliva
- Changes to the gums, such as dryness, darkening, or bruising
- Red tongue
- Rapid heart rate
- Vomiting or diarrhoea
As heatstroke progresses, dogs may begin to present with more severe signs, like…
- Serious fatigue and lethargy
- Confusion and dizziness
- Weakness, balance problems, or collapse
Some types of dogs are understood to be more susceptible to heatstroke than others. This includes flat-faced dogs, large breeds, long haired dogs, puppies and elderly dogs, and overweight dogs. However, any dog can experience heatstroke, which is why it’s so important to monitor behaviour during high temperatures.
What to do
The quicker a dog is treated, the more likely they are to recover. If you suspect heatstroke in a dog, act fast, undertaking necessary first aid measures to eradicate the immediate risk before contacting a professional and transporting to a vet.
Step 1: Remove the immediate risk
The first step when heatstroke is suspected is to remove the dog from the hot environment and help to relax the body if the animal has been agitated and anxious. Seek shade, act calmly, and reassure the dog using soothing tones.
Step 2: Create a cool environment
Immediately try to cool down the air temperature of the space. This may include opening windows and doors to create a breeze, shutting blinds or curtains to block out sun, turning on air conditioning, or using a fan to circulate air around the dog.
Step 3: Cool the dog down
Try to remove as much heat from the dog’s body as possible. Encourage the dog to sit on a water-soaked towel, or gently pour cold water over the fur.
Alternatively, you can submerge their body in water, but only if they are used to being in water. It’s also extremely important to make sure they don’t inhale any water.
You can also try wrapping frozen veg or an ice pack in a towel and place it between your dog’s thighs.
Dogs can be provided with water to drink, but don’t force them to drink if they don’t want to.
Step 4: Contact a vet
Once the dog is in a safer environment, contact a vet and arrange for an emergency visit. Dogs should be kept as cool as possible during transport, with open windows and air conditioning if possible. An extra pair of hands may be necessary.
Staying Safe in the Heat
The best thing that owners can do for their canine companions is to keep the risk of heatstroke to a minimum. Here are some top tips for staying safe in hot weather:
- Avoid walks during the hottest time of the day
- Ensure dogs always have access to a cool, shaded area
- Do not encourage fun and games when it is very warm
- Provide plenty of water throughout the day
- Offer hydrating snacks, such as cucumber or dog-safe berries
- Groom regularly to keep fur short
- Utilise cooling mats and toys
- Know the signs, and act quickly if heatstroke is suspected
Skills Training Group is an award-winning provider of first aid courses and training. For further information, please contact us on 0808 164 2780.