Canines and Heat Stroke

I did not realize that pet owners don’t know that their canine companion can get heat stroke! In the last two years I have heard of so many dogs dying of heat stroke when it is completely avoidable! So today I want to share as much information as I can with you about how to recognize it, but more importantly how to avoid it.

Did you know that in general dogs cannot tolerate heat above 75 degrees? Just because it’s a nice temperature for you, doesn’t mean your dog feels the same. Your dog just wants to be with you because you are it’s whole world. It is up to you to educate yourself on how to keep it safe and healthy.

A dog gets heat stroke when he’s having trouble regulating his body temperature. This isn’t always visible to you because your dog doesn’t sweat the way you do – he only has sweat glands in his nose and in the pads of his feet. And his only real recourse when he’s overheating is to pant, which might not be enough on hot days.

Look at your pup, see that fur? It’s a magnet for the sun. Feel his fur after he’s been out in it for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes. Would you want to be that hot?

Does your dog have a flat face like Pugs and Boxers? Is your dog elderly or a young puppy? Is your dog mostly black or dark brown? Does your dog have existing health conditions? Is your dog a cold weather breed? Is your dog over the age of 10? All these conditions mean your dog will overheat much faster when the temperature is at or above 75 degrees.

Do you see where your pup walks when he’s outside? If not, take off your shoes and feel the heat on the cement, then multiply how your feet feel by 40 times that which you are feeling. That’s an approximation of how your dog is feeling. 

Do you monitor the air quality in your area? With the climate constantly changing, especially here in North America, you definitely should. Good air quality is less than 50, moderate is 50-100, and over 100 means that neither you or your pet should be outside. When air quality is in the moderate range you need to be aware of where in that range your canine can easily manage being outside. For example, Sammy does fine if the air quality is less than 75, anything above that and he is unable to breathe properly and will end up panting quite hard without having exerted himself. Unfortunately there are no warnings for air quality like there are for tornadoes or hurricanes, or even thunderstorms, so it’s important for you to check your weather app or bookmark the airnow.gov site to your phone or computer so you can check it every day upon rising*. In many areas across North America the air quality is very poor in the morning just before and after sunrise, when the sun is hot and humid, or when there are fires in the area or even from the residual smoke in the air from fires several states or provinces away.

So what IS heat stroke? How do you recognize it? 

The first sign you should always be looking for when you are with your canine when temps are over 70 degrees is bright red or dark red tongue/gums. That’s because this is usually the first sign when you can do something to correct it quickly. 

If you see this sign, get your dog in the shade and keep them there, sitting on grass, so they can cool down. Offer them water (which you should always have with you, in a stainless steel bottle, in your rucksack ~ whether you are hiking a terrain or walking the neighborhood). Once they have cooled down head for home, even if you’ve only been out a short time. If you don’t you risk a full on heat stroke and possible death to your canine companion.

What about all the other signs of heat stroke? 

Here are more signs of heat stroke in dogs to watch out for:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Glazed eyes
  • Hyperventilation
  • Increased salivation
  • Dry gums that are pale or grayish
  • Rapid or erratic pulse
  • Weakness, staggering, confusion, inattention
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Collapse

If your dog’s breathing slows, stops, he/she falls into a coma, or has a seizure, take immediate action by calling your primary vet (or emergency vet) to let them know you are on the way and why, while getting your pup to them as quickly as possible.

What to do if your dog is having a heat stroke?

If your dog is responsive to you, do just as was stated above, get them to a cool shady area but do not offer them water just yet

Instead apply cool water to their body. Get water on your dog’s inner thighs and stomach where there are more large blood vessels, and on the pads of his/her feet. If available use running water from the faucet or hose. If not, use the bottle of water you keep in your backpack on your walks. DO NOT cover your dog with a towel afterward (this creates a sauna effect and will cause more heat stroke symptoms) or dry your dog off after you have gotten him/her wet. Allow the water to evaporate on its own!

Next, encourage your dog to stand or slowly walk around while he’s cooling down. You want his cooled blood to circulate throughout his body. Now you can offer your dog a drink of water, but do not force him/her to drink it if they don’t take it right away. It’s hard to catch your breath and swallow water at the same time! They eventually will, so leave it close by. 

Finally, get your dog to the vet! You don’t want to continue trying to cool down your dog for too long or you’ll risk him/her getting hypothermia. However, do not skip the steps above or you will not give your dog a chance for survival. Even if your dog seems to be fine after doing the steps above he’ll need a veterinary exam as there can be underlying damage to his organs that you can’t detect because the after effects of a heat stroke can continue for up to 72 hours.

I hear it quite often where dogs have died of heat stroke, pawrents blaming the vet for not saving their pet. When in reality the pawrent didn’t do what was necessary to help their pet survive. 

Others are told their dog died of disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC), but aren’t given an explanation. Eventually the pawrent finds out that it was from a heat stroke. Remember it’s a STROKE, not just your dog being a little hot. So a DIC can happen when the blood coagulates throughout the body. It can occur hours or days after a heat stroke. So again, even if your dog seems much better, contact your vet immediately.

And now for the most important part of this blog post…

How do you prevent heat stroke in dogs?

Whether you’re heading out for a hike or your dog’s playing in the backyard, heat stroke can happen. Always be aware of the temperature and the potential for heat stroke, and limit your dog’s time outside. 

Offer up areas that have some shade and a place for your dog to take a break that is out of direct sunlight. Offer your dog cool, clean water to drink whether you “think” they will drink it or not. 

Get your dog a canine cooling vest. Cooling vests are made from high tech materials that can be soaked, wrung out, and put on your pet to keep your dog cool on their walks. The vests are typically made of lightweight material (in light colors to reflect the sun) with UV coverage. They generally have a hole to clip a leash to the harness, however some manufacturers do not do this. Some provide slits, some provide zipper openings, some even provide attached D-rings eliminating the need for a harness underneath. 

Sammy got his first cooling vest in spring of 2019 and it was the  Swamp Cooler™ Cooling Dog Vest from Ruffwear. There were only a few on the market at that time that would work for us (i.e. long lasting, UV protection, etc) and it was the best we could find at the time. It lasted us until a week ago. We took it out of storage and began using it but it lost it’s ability to retain the water in the vest for more than 30 minutes. Turns out they have two options now, which you can check out from the link below. 

There are other brands out there so I encourage you to read up on the technology and use from the Ruffwear website, and then do your own research. This time we got Sammy something with the same type of technology, but a different fit. It also has attached D-Rings for his leash and is easier for his mom’s arthritic hands to put on and take off. If you want to compare for yourself you can see what we purchased in the link below.

Another very important thing to do is get yourself a little backpack or rucksack (those very small/lightweight drawstring sacks your kid carries their gym clothes in) and use it for all the necessities of dog walking: poop bags, phone, keys, water, collapsible water bowl, and anything else you deem as necessary.  As mentioned earlier in this post, I highly recommend a stainless steel water bottle. First it’s refillable, so you only have to buy it once and keep reusing it. Second, it keeps the water relatively cool, so you or your dog is not drinking warm water when you need it. And third, it’s not plastic. Plastic once heated beyond 68 degrees can cause its chemicals to leach into the water. Not something you or your pet want to be drinking. 

Having your little rucksack with your stainless steel bottle inside means you will always be ready for a walk. I will provide links to a few items we use at the bottom of the post. 

And remember, any time you are out with your pup, even in the backyard, your dog’s internal temperature, and ability to regulate it, is much different than that of yours. So no more accepting that what is fine for you is fine for your canine companion. Learn as much as you can about your dog’s breed, and if it is a mixed breed seek out information on them all to determine what breed is your dog’s body type, as well as what breed is their personality. 

For example Sammy’s mom was a Golden Retriever and his dad was a Samoyed. Sammy has the disposition of a Golden Retriever, which made him an excellent service dog! But his body is that of a Samoyed. So I am constantly aware of how Samoyed’s are in regards to their health and wellness, noting these things in Sammy as they come up. Especially when it comes to the heat, because as we all know Samoyed’s are winter dogs and do not tolerate heat very well. So while the average dog might tolerate heat up to 80 degrees without a problem, not Sammy! Anything over 73 degrees and he’s panting. And as our canine friends age it can get even more difficult, so keep that in mind.

Is there something you do that we didn’t mention? Be sure to tell us in the comments here or on social media!

Sammy and I thank you for stopping by and we hope we have given some much needed advice for you and your pet!

*Not all weather apps have Air Quality updates. Some do but are not very accurate. The website gives updates hourly. When putting in your local information use zip code if you live in a large city. However if you live in a town, on the outskirts of a city, etc. then put in the town name to get a more accurate reading.

REFERENCE LINKS:

Stainless Steel Bottle

Ruffwear Cooling Gear

SGODA Dog Cooling Vest Harness with D-Ring Attachment

Rucksack

Collapsible Water Bowl for Dog

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