Spring and summer is when the temperatures rise so much that we want to go to the beach or pool to cool off, turn on the air conditioner or lay down in the shade. Any option is a good one if it means avoiding that oppressive heat… But dogs aren’t as lucky, and they can suffer a heat stroke in a matter of minutes, which can even be deadly.
It’s no surprise – they don’t sweat like we do, so they don’t use transpiration to reduce their body temperature. They pant to regulate their temperature, but it’s a much slower process. Plus, they are completely covered with fur, which increases their body temperature and also keeps them from cooling off as fast as humans can.
It’s very easy to know when your dog is suffering a heat stroke, and just as easy to prevent. Let’s look at how to prevent this problem, how to identify it, and of course, what you should do (this last part can save your dog’s life).
What is heat stroke in a dog?
Dogs have a body temperature that is slightly higher than humans, from 38 to 39 degrees Celsius (100.4 to 102.2 Fahrenheit) under normal conditions. But it can rise very quickly in extreme environmental conditions (higher ambient temperature, sun exposure, excess humidity, etc.)
When a dog’s temperature exceeds 40°C (104°F), we can say that he’s either getting a fever, or suffering a heat stroke. The most pronounced heat strokes are produced starting at 41 or 42°C (105.8 to 107.6°F), which can seriously and irreversibly damage a dog’s internal organs.
A heat stroke is a sudden or gradual increase in a dog’s internal temperature. An excess of heat that will affect his body, and can kill him in barely 5 or 6 minutes, depending on the case, obviously.
Reasons why a dog might suffer a heat stroke
Believe it or not, the main cause of death by heat stroke in dogs is the fault of their owners. There are many occasions when we don’t stop to think that dogs aren’t like us, they can’t get hot and then cool off as quickly as we can… they have a really hard time.
- Leaving your dog in the car when it’s hot out is a death sentence. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one minute because you’re going to get some bread and you parked in the second row… A car is an oven, and the main cause of death by heat stroke in dogs. Air conditioning doesn’t affect dogs the same way as humans, they need a lot more to lower their body temperature.
- Leaving your dog tied to his doghouse when it’s hot outside. It’s not just torture (and subject to fines) but also another of the main causes of death in dogs. Some by heat stroke and others by strangulation with their own chain, trying to reach some shade so they don’t die from heat. If your idea of having a dog is leaving him tied outside so he’ll guard the house… you’re better off buying a security system and a stuffed animal.
- Going for walks in extreme temperatures. This isn’t just unwise/insane, but a form of torture for your dog that can cause him to have a heat stroke. You protect yourself from the sun with sunglasses, a hat, or wearing shorts so you don’t get too hot… but what can you dog do? Don’t make him go through that, take him out to pee and go back inside and wait for it to cool down before going for a walk. Basically, just use common sense.
- Letting your dog lie down in the sun when it’s very hot. It isn’t health, they love to lie down in the sun but sometimes they fall asleep and aren’t aware that their temperature has risen so much that now they are unable to move. Watch your dog and don’t let him lie in the sun for more than 5 minutes in extreme heat.
- A combination of heat and humidity is deadly for a dog. When extreme heat combines with high levels of humidity, your dog will have serious trouble cooling down… and his body temperature will gradually increase.
Signs that your dog is having a heat stroke
The symptoms are very clear when a dog is suffering from heat stroke. If you notice one or more of them, immediately take appropriate action, because his life is truly in danger.
- Your dog will start to pant, breathe very fast or nervously.
- Your dog will lose his strength, to the point that he might not even be able to move. He will be reluctant to move, or sometimes may even faint.
- He may also have the shakes, lose his balance, spasms, etc.
- The color of his gums will become darker, verging on bluish, because of the poor oxygenation resulting from the excess heat.
- Within these, it’s worth mentioning that sometimes he will show apathy or even aggression, before passing out or going into shock, which can potentially kill him.
What to do if your dog has a heat stroke
The first thing to do is remain calm – panicking can make you act without using common sense and make mistakes. There are several things you should do if your dog is suffering from heat stroke, which obviously can save his life:
- If you are close to a veterinarian, go to the vet immediately so they can administer the proper care (they may use medication to help the dog come out of shock).
But… you won’t always be near a vet’s office, so take note of what you should do in case of heat stroke:
- Take your dog somewhere cool, out of direct sunlight, without high temperatures or sources of heat.
- Give him cool, clean water (not very cold) and keep him from drinking too much or too fast, as this can worsen the situation and even cause twisted stomach, which can be fatal.
- Moisten your dog with cool water. Wet his head, belly, underarms… and repeat constantly. Very important: Never cover your dog with wet towels or cloths to try to lower his temperature – this will have the opposite effect and will kill him. You should only cool him down using your hand.
- In extreme cases, you can place an ice cube in his armpit briefly, leaving it there for a few seconds and then removing it, repeating for several minutes.
- In extreme cases, you can also bath him in cool water (not cold, just cool) for several minutes to try to bring his temperature down.
Once your dog has stabilized, call and go to the veterinarian. It’s essential that you see your vet to check if there has been internal damage and to keep the dog under observation (even if your dog gets better momentarily, he can get worse again).
Tips to keep your dog from getting heat stroke
All of this is common sense, but since our common sense can sometimes go out the window… remember these simple tips:
- Always have clean, cool water available to your dog.
- Don’t leave him in the sun when it’s very hot out.
- Avoid car trips when it’s hot (air conditioning cools us down, but not dogs).
- If he lives outside, make sure he has access to good shade. But if the temperature gets very high, the best thing is to bring him inside for him to be cooler.