Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs and How to Avoid It
Don’t let your cool pup become a hot dog
When warm weather arrives, you can’t wait to take Fido out for a day of fetch and fun at the park. But keep in mind your pooch is sporting a fur coat while playing, so he has a harder time cooling himself off than you do.
Canines don't have the same cooling mechanisms as humans, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. And panting, dogs' primary way of lowering body temperature, isn’t as efficient as sweating. So exercising with your dog during the hottest times of the day, or — don't even think about it — leaving your dog in a hot car, is a recipe for potentially deadly heatstroke.
Heatstroke symptoms and what to do
How can you tell if your dog has heatstroke? Jake Tedaldi, DVM, owner of Boston-based house call veterinary practice Vetcall, says to watch for these symptoms of overheating:
- Excessive panting
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased heart and respiratory rate
- Mild weakness
- Bloody diarrhea
If you’re out and about and your dog starts panting heavily, looks tired, becomes disinterested in drinking water or is a bit off balance or disoriented, he is most likely suffering from heatstroke, says Tedaldi.
You need to bring your dog’s temperature down immediately. “But it needs to be done gradually, or you’ll make things worse,” he warns. Follow these steps:
- Move him into your car right away and crank up the air conditioner.
- Apply cold towels to his head, neck and chest, or run cool water over him. Don't soak your dog with really cold water, says Tedaldi.
- Let him drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes.
If your dog doesn’t improve right away, of if he develops more severe symptoms such as confusion, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty breathing or bluish or purple gums, take him to the vet immediately, Tedaldi says.
Pooches at higher risk for heatstroke
Be extra careful if your dog has a flat face like that of a pug, mastiff or bulldog. Short-nosed dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke because they cannot breathe as effectively as other dogs, explains Tedaldi.
These pets, along with dogs who are elderly, overweight or have heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible during warm days, advises the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
“You should check with your veterinarian first before taking your dog to do any strenuous exercise,” says Tedaldi.
Related: Dog Toys: Which Ones Are Safest?
Enjoying the heat without the harm
A lot of the things you can do to keep your dog safe during hot days “are common sense,” says Tedaldi.
Don’t worship the sun. Before starting your walk, give the sidewalk a test with the palm of your hand, recommends the ASPCA. If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot for your pooch and may burn his footpads.
Limit exercise to early in the morning or late in the evening, when the temperatures are lower and the asphalt is not so hot, the ASPCA suggests.
A shady, sheltered place to rest, such as a spot under a tree or open tarp, is a must. A doghouse isn’t appropriate; it may very well become hotter than outside in the sun.
Bring cooling supplies. If you’re going out for a while, take ice cubes, water and a spray bottle with you, especially “when the weather report calls for hot and humid weather,” says Tedaldi.
Pets can dehydrate quickly when it’s hot, so offer fresh, clean water to your dog regularly and make sure there’s a bowl full of cool water around at all times. “You can fill the water bowl with ice cubes every now and then,” suggests Tedaldi.
Some doggie gadgets such as a cooling body wrap, vest or mat may bring relief to your hot pup. Soak these products in cool water, and they’ll stay cool for up to three days, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Whip up a batch of quick and easy DIY peanut butter popsicles for dogs, suggests the Humane Society. You can get creative and make popsicles out of other favorite foods too, like frozen veggies. (Just avoid these foods dogs should never eat.)
Go for a splash. Take your pooch for a swim for a refreshing activity on a hot day. Just remember to supervise him and rinse him off after swimming to remove chlorine or salt from his fur, recommends the ASPCA. Or try a cool bath or hose soak, the Humane Society suggests.
Take him for a trim. Feel free to snip longer hair on your dog during hot months (or bring her to the groomer). But never shave your dog. The layers of fur protect her from overheating and sunburn, according to the ASPCA.
Say yes to AC. Don’t feel bad skipping a walk if the day is very hot. Take your dog out for potty only and enjoy some other activity in an air-conditioned room, the ASPCA says. And don't rely on a fan, as the Humane Society says they don't cool off pets as effectively as they do people.
Never leave your dog inside a parked car. Don’t leave your dog alone in the car, not even for a minute. Not even with cracked windows or the car running with the air conditioner on, the Humane Society says. On a hot day, a parked car can become a furnace in no time, even with the windows open, says the ASPCA.