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What is heatstroke in dogs?

Heatstroke in dogs is when your pet becomes too hot and is unable to self regulate their body temperature. It’s a type of nonpyrogenic hyperthermia, which means their temperature rises, caused by external factors (not a fever). Dogs carry a lot of fur, so to them, a walk outside on a hot day is the equivalent to us wearing a fur coat in 26c!

There are two types of heatstroke, exertional and non-exertional. Exertional occurs when your dog is exercising in hot weather and they haven’t been able to adjust to the increase in temperature (it can take dogs 60 days to acclimatise). Non-exertional is when your dog is in a warmer environment and has no access to air or cool water, such as in a car, an unshaded area or a hot environment.

Unlike humans, dogs don’t have sweat glands on furry areas of their body, so it’s not as easy for them to cool down naturally. However, dogs can sweat via the sweat glands around their nose and on their paws but this is limited in relation to their body mass.

Signs of heatstroke

Dogs can experience a range of symptoms if they are suffering from heatstroke. If your dog is showing any of the following signs of heat exhaustion, take them to your local vet immediately. 

  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Whining
  • Lethargy
  • High temperature
  • Dehydration
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased pulse
  • Red or purple gums or tongue
  • Collapse
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

 

Breeds more susceptible to heatstroke

Overweight dogs or flat faced breeds (brachycephalic pets) such as French bulldogs and pugs are more susceptible to heatstroke. 

Overweight dogs have increased body mass and naturally more fur, so their body temperature rises quicker. Brachycephalic dogs can suffer from a narrow upper respiratory tract and narrow nostrils which can obstruct the airway and restrict airflow, which is required as dogs pant to circulate air through their body. 

How to prevent heatstroke in dogs

  • Under no circumstances, do not leave your dog in a parked car on a warm day. Even at mild temperatures, this can cause your dog to warm up in as little as 15 minutes. Simply leaving the window ajar will not compensate to prevent your dog from overheating. Sadly, dogs have died being left in a hot car.
  • If you can’t hold your hand on tarmac for seven seconds, it is too hot for your dog’s paws. It is best to walk your dog early in the morning or later at night once the sun has gone down. Doing so can also help protect your dog’s paws so the pavement isn’t too hot for them to walk on
  • Walk your dog in shaded areas
  • Apply pet-friendly suntan lotion to areas of their body where the skin is more exposed (your dog’s ears, belly, nose)
  • Always provide fresh drinking water, ideally cool drinking water
  • Pour and rub cool water into your dog’s paws to reduce their body temperature
  • Avoid travelling with your dog on long car journeys when it’s warm to prevent your pet from sitting in a hot vehicle for an extended period. If you do have to travel, if possible put the air conditioning on and so it doesn’t blow in your dog’s face
  • Provide plenty of shaded areas for your dog if they are out in the garden
  • If your pet has long fur or a thick coat, cut it short to help them stay cool

 

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Treatment for heatstroke

Heatstroke acts quickly and the signs can often be tricky to spot. The most accurate way to treat heatstroke in dogs is to check your dog’s body temperature using a rectal thermometer. Your dog’s temperature should be no higher than 40ºC. 

If you are out walking your dog and you suspect they are suffering from heatstroke, please take them to your nearest vet immediately. Heatstroke can be fatal if left untreated. 

There are various methods you can try to reduce your dog’s temperature if you are away from home:

  • Take your dog to a shaded area to start helping them cool down
  • If you’re near a river or lake, wet clothing and place this on your dog’s armpits, neck and hind legs
  • If you have any water, pour it gently over your dog’s ear and paws
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