The summer solstice has come and gone which means fun in the sun for you and your pups! And as a responsible dog owner, it’s also a great time to brush up on the dangers of heat-related illnesses. Prolonged exposure to heat can easily result in heat exhaustion, and in the most extreme cases, heat stroke, which can be life threatening. But with a little bit of awareness and preparation, we can ensure that our pups stay safe all summer long.
How do I know if my dog is experiencing heat exhaustion?
Unlike humans, dogs don’t sweat when they get hot. The reason why humans sweat is because when the moisture evaporates from our skin it creates a cooling effect. Dogs use a similar method by rapidly breathing in air (aka panting) which evaporates the moisture in their mouths, nose, and lungs.
However, just like sweating is limited in its effectiveness, so is panting. Heat exhaustion occurs when a dog’s internal system becomes overwhelmed by extensive exposure to hot temperatures and/or direct sunlight. Since our dogs are unable to tell us what they are feeling or experiencing, it’s important for dog owners to be aware of the symptoms. Below are seven signs your dog is experiencing heat exhaustion:
1. Excessive panting and rapid breathing: As mentioned earlier, it is normal for a dog to pant when they are exposed to heat. However, if this panting becomes excessive and your dog appears uncomfortable, it could be a sign of a heat-related illness.
2. Bright red gums or tongue: Exposure to heat can cause blood vessels to dilate which may result in reddish-looking gums (compared to their normal pinkish color), an indicator that your dog may be overheating.
3. Thick and sticky saliva: When experiencing heat stress, your dog’s body may attempt to conserve fluids which may cause a dog’s saliva consistency to become thicker and stickier than usual.
4. Vomiting or diarrhea: Excess heat can lead to dehydration or electrolyte imbalances which may cause unexpected gastrointestinal issues.
5. Weakness or lethargy: If your dog suddenly changes demeanor and appears weaker or sleepier than normal, it could be a sign that your dog is suffering from serious heat stress.
6. Dizziness, stumbling, or seizures: As heat exhaustion transitions into heat stroke, a dog may become disoriented or experience muscle spasms due to the heat’s impact on their central nervous system.
7. Collapse or loss of consciousness: This is, of course, the scariest result that could lead to the most extensive internal damage including blot clots, heart arrhythmias, and organ failure. By learning the early warning signs, you can be aware and intervene before the symptoms become life-threatening.
What do I do if my dog is experiencing heat exhaustion?
Not only is it important to recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion, but you should also be aware on how to provide first-aid treatment. Swift action is crucial to prevent further complications from occurring.
The goal is to reduce your dog’s temperature. Move away from direct sunlight and take your dog to a shaded area, preferably somewhere cooler and/or well-ventilated (a location with fans or air conditioning is best). Provide fresh water for your dog, but don’t force them to drink since it may cause them to choke or could result in nausea.
Use cool water, damp towels, or even a water hose on areas of their body with a high concentration of blood vessels, such as the groin area, armpits, and paws. Cooling these areas will help dissipate the heat throughout their body. However, DO NOT use ice-cold water or ice packs to cool them down. It might sound counterintuitive, but ice can actually constrict blood vessels which will limit your dog’s ability to dissipate heat. Even worse, your dog can experience shock, or even hypothermia!
Monitor your dog’s temperature with a thermometer. Remember, dogs naturally have a higher temperature than humans which ranges between 99.5°F and 102.5°F (37.5°C to 39.2°C). If your dog’s condition worsens, contact your vet immediately for an emergency visit. However, even if your dog’s condition improves, it is still highly recommended to have a check-up with your vet for a thorough examination.
How do I prevent my dog from experiencing heat exhaustion?
As always, prevention is key. By taking proactive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of heat exhaustion. Below are six prevention tips to keep your pooch safe this summer:
1. Avoid peak heat hours: Restrict vigorous physical activities, such as running or long walks, to the cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or evening. The less direct sunlight exposure, the better!
2. Provide shade and fresh water: If you and your dog are going for a long walk, plan for multiple water breaks, preferably in shaded areas.
3. Utilize cooling accessories: Invest in cooling vests, bandanas, or mats specifically designed for dogs. These products can regulate your dog’s temperature and reduce the strain of their body’s internal cooling system.
4. NEVER leave your dog in a parked car: It only takes a few minutes for a car to become overheated, even on a day with mild temperatures.
5. Walk on suitable surfaces: Hot tip (pun intended), if the sidewalk is too hot for your hand, it’s probably too hot for your dog. Avoid scorching your dog’s paws by opting for grassy or shaded paths instead.
6. Take breed and age into consideration: Some breeds of dog (such as Bulldogs and Pugs) may be more susceptible to heat-related issues because of their compromised breathing abilities. Also, take extra precautions for dogs with other vulnerabilities, such as old age, young age, thick coats, and dogs that are overweight.
Heat exhaustion is a serious condition that should not be underestimated. But if you implement appropriate preventative measures and remain vigilant of the symptoms, you can help keep your furry companion happy and healthy for many summers to come! This article does not serve as medical or veterinarian advice and should your pet experience heat exhaustion you should always seek veterinarian assistance or advice immediately.