Videos of dogs trapped in vehicles on hot summer days have gone viral around the world. The harrowing images have tugged at our heartstrings and deepened our public commitments to preventing these tragedies and helping our furry friends when they are in danger. But it’s important to know that dogs can also get heat stroke outside of hot cars. Whether they are lying outside on the lawn, doing obedience training, playing fetch at the park, or in a house without air conditioning, it is important for us to know the signs of heat stroke, so we can recognize the symptoms and prevent them from happening again.
Heat stroke is also referred to as hyperthermia, and it happens when the body’s heat-dissipating mechanisms fail. It often occurs in high external temperatures and causes the body’s internal temperature to exceed 103° F. Consequently, the internal organs stop functioning properly. In dog breeds, it most often occurs in dogs with long hair or dogs with short noses and flat faces (brachycephalic breeds).
When heat stroke strikes, it often happens when a dog is excessively exercised or unable to escape a persistent, high temperature. During the summer months, it is especially important to keep an eye on your dog and ensure they always have access to water. If you notice the following symptoms in your dog, they might have heat stroke: dehydration, panting, increased body temperature, excessive drooling, reddened gums, vomiting, uncoordinated gait, seizures, or difficulty breathing. Consult a veterinarian or animal hospital immediately.
Recognizing and treating these symptoms is essential for your dog’s survival. Some suggested cooling methods include spraying your dog with cool water, wrapping your dog in cool, wet towels, fanning your dog, giving them water, or using evaporative cooling practices. It is also very important to use cool water, not cold water when treating your dog for heat stroke because cold water can shrink blood vessels which can prevent further heat dissipation. In less serious cases, a veterinarian will perform an exam after the incident. In most cases, however, dogs have to be hospitalized. Once they’re stabilized, tests for brain and organ damage are usually conducted.
Old dogs and brachycephalic breeds are more likely to experience heat stroke, though it can happen to any dog. To prevent this serious condition from occurring, avoid excessively exercising your dog on hot days, avoid keeping them in rooms with low ventilation, take them out of the sun if it’s too hot outside, and have water available at all times. It may seem obvious to most people, but never leave your dog in a parked car. Cars have low ventilation and become hot very quickly. Additionally, you can learn dog CPR to save a dog should the need arise. In short, know the symptoms, and work to prevent heat stroke from happening in the first place.
Dogs are an integral part of our families, and our love for them manifests in how we care for them. We can all take steps to prevent and recognize heat stroke to help save our beloved furry friends.