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Heat Stroke in Dogs: How Hot Is TOO Hot for Dogs?

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How hot is TOO hot for dogs? Heat stroke in dogs is a real risk, just as it is with people–and it’s up to you, whether you’re at home or out on a day trip with your dog–to make sure your dog stays safe!

when is it too hot for your dog

With temperatures hovering around 100 degrees here every day into the foreseeable future, we have to schedule our dog fun in the early morning (evening remain too hot) or around the water. The temperatures are too hot for our dogs’ paws and for them to cool themselves efficiently, putting them at risk for heat-related illness.

We’ve got a roundup of tips that you need for avoiding and recognizing heat stroke in your dog–and ways to help your dog beat the heat this summer!

Heat Stroke in Dogs

Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) reminding pet owners that intervening at the first sign of their pet overheating is the key to preventing a serious emergency.

Asphalt and concrete become griddles during hot weather and, even if they’re cool enough for your dog to walk on safely (and many times they’re not), the heat coming up off those surfaces can be very taxing on your dog, especially smaller dogs whose bodies are closer to the hot surface.

Heatstroke occurs when a pet’s normal body mechanisms cannot keep the body’s temperature within a safe range. Considered a veterinary emergency, heatstroke can result in gastrointestinal upset, dysfunction of internal organs, internal bleeding, infection or even death in severe cases. It’s up to pet owners to exercise caution to avoid heatstroke and seek veterinary care when their pet shows signs of overheating.

“Don’t depend on your pet to let you know when they are overheating,” said Christine New, DVM, a TVMA member who practices at Hillside Veterinary Clinic in Dallas. “At the early stages of overheating, intervention by pet owners can prevent mild overheating from progressing to heatstroke, which is a serious, sometimes fatal condition.”

Pets are unable to sweat, which means they don’t have the efficient cooling system the human body does. This also means that the effects of heat are felt much more strongly and much more quickly in pets than in humans, so it’s up to pet owners to take steps to keep their pets’ bodies in a safe temperature range.

How to Prevent Heat Stroke in Dogs

The TVMA gives these easy steps you can take to prevent heatstroke during periods of warm weather include:

  • Never leave your pet in your car, even for a short period of time. Heatstroke can occur when a pet is left in a car even on a 70-degree day.
  • Make sure your pet has access to shade and an ample amount of water while outside.
  • Create a cooling source for your pet, like a kiddie pool filled with cool (not ice) water, or allow your pet to lie on bottles or sealed bags filled with water that are wrapped in a towel.
  • Avoid exercising or walking your pet at peak temperature hours or on especially hot or humid days.

A good rule of thumb is that pets are at risk for heatstroke once the outside temperature hits at least 80 degrees and a humidity of at least 90 percent.

Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs

According to the Animal First Aid Chapter of Pet Sitters International (PSI) Certification Program, which was created in conjunction with Thom Somes, the Pet Safety Guy™, pets can easily suffer from heatstroke.

“High body temperatures and stress can cause a pet to go into heatstroke,” Ellen Price, PSI academic manager, said. “Heatstroke is most often caused when pets are left in a confined space with little or no ventilation during periods of warm temperatures and high humidity.”

The signs of heatstroke can include:

  • Uncontrollable panting
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Agitation
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Tongue and gums that turn from bright red to blue to gray
  • Capillary refill time of more than two seconds

Which Dogs Are Prone to Heatstroke?

Dr. Meg Connelly, a South Shore veterinarian at Willard Veterinary Clinic in Quincy, MA, warns pet owners to be vigilant in helping pets avoid heatstroke. At her animal clinic, she has seen an increase in cases of pet heatstroke and notes that overweight and elderly pets, pets with cardiac or respiratory problems, and dogs with short noses like bulldogs, boxers and pugs are particularly heat sensitive.

Dr. Connelly said that heatstroke is entirely preventable, but that pet owners often forget that their pets deal with heat differently than humans do.

“Pets wear fur coats all the time, and they can’t really sweat, except a little between their footpads. So even at temperatures in the 70s, pets can feel uncomfortable. Just imagine how you would feel in our recent sweltering 90 degree heat and humidity with a fur coat you couldn’t take off. It’s very dangerous, but it’s also preventable. If you notice your pet is panting loudly and heavily like they can’t get enough air, get them cool fast.”

Dr. Connelly urges families to keep their pets in cool, shady, well-ventilated areas out of the sun on hot days and to make sure they always have enough fresh, cool water to drink. Pets should go for walks early in the morning when it is still cool outside. Longer-haired pets can also be given a shorter fur trim for the summer to help ventilate their skin.

What to Do if You Suspect Your Dog Has Heat Stroke

According to BluePearl Veterinary Partners notes, “Lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and dark red gums are all signs of heat related distress. If your pet is panting uncontrollably or collapses, take the animal to your veterinarian or nearest emergency veterinary hospital immediately.

And Dr. Connelly if pet owners notice these symptoms, they should run cool (not freezing) water over them with a hose or in the tub.

Then wrap cool, wet towels around them and fan them on the way to the animal clinic. Even if owners cool their pets down, they still need pet veterinary care and possibly pet meds.

BluePearl Veterinary Partners cautions, “Don’t give sports drinks or electrolyte supplements to pets. Dogs cool off by panting and they do not sweat like people. Supplements like sports drinks can actually harm animals and make pets sick.”

The Texas Veterinary Medical Association suggests:

  • Try to cool your pet’s body by wetting him with cool water and exposing it to a breeze or a nearby fan.
  • Make water available but do not force your pet to drink.
  • Transport your pet to the nearest veterinary facility for treatment. The effects of heatstroke are often subtle and not immediately apparent.
  • Even if your pet appears to have recovered, it’s possible that they are still at risk for the damaging effects of heatstroke.

Leaving Your Dog in the Car

While walking your dog during hot weather is definitely a risk, one of the major causes of heatstroke is leaving dogs in the car — even for a few minutes.

Dr. Connelly reminds pet parents never to leave their pets alone in a parked car:

“Parked cars literally become ovens that can kill a pet or a person in moments. Either leave your pets at home, or take them inside with you. It will save their lives!”

What Temperatures are Safe for Your Dog?

Recently Petplan pet insurance released this interesting infographic about safe temperatures for your dog:

chart showing hot how is too hot for your dog

As you can see, the smaller dogs can tolerate the heat a little better than the larger dogs–unless yours is a brachycephalic dog. (Petplan noted that the risk of heat-related incidents is nearly twice as high for breeds such as Boxers, Bulldogs and Pugs.)

Senior dogs, very young puppies, and obese dogs also have a tougher time handling high temps.

The claims the insurance company sees for heat-related illness average $2,606 for heat stroke, $398 for dehydration and $913 for hyperthermia.

6 Ways to Help Your Dog Beat the Heat

  • Chill out with a tasty treat. Freeze low-sodium chicken broth in a popsicle mold or ice cube tray for dogs and cats to enjoy on a hot day.
  • Hose down hot pavement, patios and porches before letting your pets outside. A little water could go a long way toward keeping paws cool and avoiding paw pad burns. Pet parents can also run cool water over their dog’s feet.
  • Say yes to ice water. Adding ice to pets’ water bowls creates a game for curious canines—they’ll bob for ice cubes and stay cool and hydrated in the process!
  • Cool the crate. If your pet will be crated while you’re away, try freezing two-liter water bottles and placing them on top of the crate. They’ll give off cool air and help keep the spot cool.
  • Wear a cold compress. A refrigerated wet bandana will help keep Fido cool and stylish this summer—this is especially effective because of the temperature receptors around dogs’ necks.
  • Make a splash. A backyard baby pool is a great way for pets to stay cool (and it’s fun too!). Some cats may even choose to toe the water.

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