The Dangers of Heatstroke

The Dangers of Heatstroke

It is the height of summer in Wisconsin. Beautiful hot and humid days bring people outdoors, with many flocking to the lakes and rivers to cool off. Glia and I love this time of year. However, with the heat comes a serious risk to dogs – heatstroke.

As an on-call veterinarian, the emergency call is always heartbreaking. A dog has been out enjoying the sunshine with his/her owner. They have been running and playing and then suddenly, someone will notice that the dog is having difficulty walking. Or maybe they see him collapse. He will be panting hard, unable to catch his breath. If the heatstroke is bad, seizures will start. Tonight I was on the phone with an owner, helpless to assist besides recommending that they find water to help cool him off, as the dog passed away. There is nothing worse than the pain of a sudden death in an otherwise healthy dog. It was too late for the dog tonight, but hopefully this post will help prevent even just one more unnecessary death.

Heatstroke can affected any dog and can be caused by multiple factors – the most common causes are overexertion on a hot, humid day or being left in a parked car. Dogs cool off through panting, so dogs with pre-existing airway disease like brachycephalic dogs with smushed noses (here’s looking at you pugs) or older labradors with laryngeal paralysis are at a higher risk.  Obesity can also increase a dogs risk of heating up faster. Be aware of your own dogs limitations. If you have any specific concerns, your veterinarian is a great resources regarding recommendations for keeping your dog healthy during summer exercise.

For most owners who are out and about with their own adventures dogs, keeping in mind the following tips can help reduce the risk of heatstroke:

  • If it is hot and humid, take frequent breaks and carry plenty of water out on hikes and other adventures.
  • Time activities that require exertion for the cooler times of day (morning and evening).
  • Swimming and water related activities can be great summer activities as the water helps keep the dogs cool (but a dog that is swimming excessively on a hot day can still overheat).
  • Watch for signs of heatstroke – including excessive panting, loud breathing, vomiting, collapse/weakness.
  • Personally, when Glia gets to panting hard (as shown in the image for this article), it is time to slow down in a shaded area and offer some water. I also try to let her set the pace. She is normally willing to blaze our trails, but if she is walking slowly we take a break. The breaks are a nice opportunity for me to get some water also.

What to do if you notice any of the  symptoms of heatstroke:

  • Cool your dog off! Luke-warm water should be used (if it is too cold additional complications can occur). A garden hose or tub or even wet towels can be used to get water on the dog. The dog should be moved into the shade. A fan can be used to help move air over the wet dog, helping cool the dog off further. Rubbing alcohol can also be applied to the paw pads, as it evaporates it takes heat with it.
  • Call your veterinarian or the local emergency clinic. Heatstroke can progress rapidly and, in addition to immediate life saving treatment at home, can require additional cooling +/- IV fluids and medications at a veterinary hospital. If your dog is overheated enough to be vomiting or weak, he or she needs veterinary care.

Quick recognition and prompt care can save your dog’s life, but the best treatment is prevention. All dog owners should be educated on heatstroke. For more information, check out the articles linked below:

As a final note, the summer heat can create hazards in addition to overheating. Make sure if you are walking on paved roads, that the roads are not too hot for a dog’s paws. Glia and I found ourselves in a sticky situation this summer when we took a walk on a warm road that had recently been re-tarred. Glia spends most of her time in the grass on the side of the road, but she does occasionally walk ahead of me on the road itself. FYI: It is not easy to get tar out of the hair in between a dogs paws after they step in a clump of heat-melting tar on the road. Don’t repeat our mistake – make sure the road is cool enough that you would be willing to walk on it with your bare feet. And definitely make sure it is cool enough that if the construction crew left clumps of tar on the road, they are not soft and squishy enough to stick to a dog’s paws.

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