Recognize the Danger Signs of Heat Exhaustion

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.

Heatstroke is a Potential Killer

People have efficient ways to keep cool during the hot summer months…if they don’t have air conditioners, they simply sweat, but dog’s don’t have the luxury of turning air conditioning on, and they don’t have sweat glands on their bodies like we do.  They may perspire a bit through the pads on their paws, but basically they rely on panting to regulate their body heat. If a dog is confined to a hot, humid environment or has been exercising too strenuously under the scorching sun, heat exhaustion can pose serious health problems, and if the condition progresses to heatstroke, nervous system abnormalities may include lethargy, weakness, collapse, or coma, and the dog needs immediate treatment or it may be fatal.

On hot, humid days, your dog is better off spending most of his time indoors in a temperature-controlled environment. Limit her outdoor exercise to early morning when the temperatures and humidity are at their lowest level, and watch her tongue. If you see the end of her tongue widening, that is a signal that she needs to rest and cool down. Other signs of heat exhaustion are loud, rapid breathing, and excess salivation. If not immediately moved to a cool area, she will begin to show signs of heatstroke, including rapid heartbeat, agitation, staggering, vomiting, white or bluish gums, and eventual collapse. (Only one or two of these symptoms has to be present to indicate that she may be in trouble.)

A few tips to help keep your dog from getting overheated all summer long:

  • Dogs can dehydrate very quickly, so make sure yours has plenty of fresh, clean water available at all times. If he has to be outside for any length of time, he should have access to complete shade.
  • A shorter summer hair-do is great, but leave it at least an inch long, because his fur helps protect him from the sun. Don’t shave your dog too close!
  • Don’t overdo exercise or play sessions, regardless of the time of the day. Over exertion in hot weather—even after dark—can bring on heat-related health problems. Exercise during the coolest parts of the day, stay in the shade if possible, and if it’s 90 degrees or more, stay inside, and increase indoor activities.
  • Keep your dog off hot asphalt or concrete. It can burn his paws and the heat rising from the hot surface can quickly overheat your low-to-the-ground friend.

Leaving pets unattended in a vehicle is not wise in any weather, but many states now consider it a criminal offense to leave them in extreme heat or cold. Most communities have rescue provisions which allow police officers or store employees to do whatever is necessary to rescue an animal trapped in a vehicle in dangerous temperatures. No matter where you live, if you see a pet confined in an unattended vehicle, alert the store management and CALL LAW ENFORCEMENT. Even with the windows open, the temperature in a car can rise to deadly levels within MINUTES.

Unfortunately too many dogs succumb to heat stroke when it could have been avoided with a little preparation and forethought. Know your dog…some have a higher sensitivity to heat and a lesser ability to evacuate heat once they have been exposed to high temperatures. Recognize what level of activity is appropriate under different conditions for your dog, and know when to say when. The best treatment for heatstroke is prevention. Learn the signs of heatstroke, and take the necessary steps to prevent it, to ensure your dog will beat the heat this summer!