It is hot. Really hot and humid, and as the temperatures soar, so does the danger of your dog suffering from heatstroke. We already know that dogs have more difficulty controlling their body temperature in warm weather than humans do. In fact, when we are mildly uncomfortable in the heat, our dogs are likely very uncomfortable simply because they are not equipped with many sweat glands as people have.
On hot days, a dog gradually escalates his cooling mechanisms. First he begins to pant, exposing his tongue and mouth to air. Then he lets his tongue hang out to further increase surface area. The blood vessels under the mucous membranes dilate in an attempt to improve heat exchange across the moist surfaces. Finally, the shape of the tongue changes… it gets wider at the tip, often turning upward and flaring the outside edges. When exercising your dog in warm weather, always watch his tongue. If you hear him panting loudly or see the end of his tongue widening, your dog has just used his last cooling mechanism, and may be moving into heat exhaustion, which can result in heatstroke. It’s time to take a rest and get him to a cool location immediately.
Hot, humid weather is not the only cause of heatstroke. Extreme activity alone can cause heatstroke, and when added to warm weather, it can quickly become deadly. This can be a real problem for the canine athlete. The muscles provide a portion of a sleeping dog’s body heat, and when the dog uses his muscles to exercise the amount of heat produced by the muscles can increase greatly over that of a dog at rest. A working dog’s body temp may rise from normal to 105 degrees or even higher in just minutes, which explains why long – distance sled dogs can become overheated at low temperatures.
First signs of heat exhaustion are heavy, rapid breathing, a widened tongue, and drooling. If not immediately moved to a cool area, the dog will begin to show signs of heatstroke, including rapid pulse, glazed eyes, elevated body temperature, failure to respond to commands, warm, dry skin, excessive whining or agitation, staggering, vomiting, and eventual collapse. It is important to note that only one of these symptoms has to be present to indicate the dog may be in trouble.
Be proactive and address environmental causes of heatstroke ahead of time. Provide shade and plenty of water if your dog is to be outdoors for any length of time. Take walks during cooler morning or evening hours and, although it seems obvious, NEVER leave your dog in a car, or tied outside in the sun.
If you see signs of heatstroke, immediate action is needed. Start soaking him with cool water. Do NOT use ice-cold water because that can constrict blood vessels and worsen the condition. Once the dog is wet, if available, a fan or air conditioner pointed in her direction is helpful. As soon as possible, get the dog to your vet, who will continue treatment as well as administer intravenous fluids or an enema to cool her from the inside.
Be alert to the possibility of canine heatstroke, and curb your dog’s enthusiasm when necessary on these hot humid days, so both humans and canines can enjoy the long, wonderful dog days of summer.