Heatstroke – Know the Signs!

The Cause of Heatstroke

In this country we are not used to extreme heat unless we have a heat wave, with climate change increasing our chances of a heat wave, the safety of our pets is becoming more and more of an issue as people just don’t appear to think about how animals cannot cool down very easily. So often people do not think of the consequences, the dangers of leaving a dog in a hot car. Despite these dangers being outlined repeatedly in the media that dogs die in hot cars. Leaving the window open an inch is simply not enough to stop the build up of heat in a car.

For a car to be well ventilated, the airflow needs to be moving for a car to remain cool.

Simply sitting in the sun for too long, could still be enough for a dog to suffer from heatstroke if they have no means of sitting in the shade.

Long coated and short nosed breeds of dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke.

Signs of Heatstroke

  • When a dog becomes over heated the obvious early signs are panting.
  • The panting will become heavier as the dog becomes distressed and restless.
  • Initially a sign of increased body temperature will be red gums but as time passes with this condition the gums will be bluey tinged.
  • The animal will find it hard to breathe as the oxygen will not be circulating around the body efficiently. (it will be cyanotic – blue gums)
  • The dog will become dehydrated, the gums will feel sticky (they should feel moist). The coat will become greasy looking.
  • The dog will feel hot to touch.
  • You will feel the heat of the dog coming from its body before you touch the dog.
  • The dog will salivate.
  • As the condition worsens the dog will be unsteady on its feed.
  • The later signs of heatstroke are collapse, before becoming comatosed. At this point the animal is likely to die.

How to Treat for Heatstroke

DO NOT cool the dog down too quickly. It is very important to reduce the temperature SLOWLY.

IF you were to plunge your dog into freezing cold water, it can cause shock, which can kill. If the body is cooled too quickly it can bring about a worsening of symptoms as the body will respond by warming it self up. Which is why you must do it slowly, otherwise it will just start increasing again.

I will repeat this very important advice again – COOL YOUR DOG SLOWLY.

DO NOT GIVE ICE CUBES OR ICED WATER – this will create a false internal environment for your dog as the body will respond to this by warming up.

To reduce body temperature

Initially start the process by laying on a cool dampened towel and if responsive offer a drink of cool (not icy) water.

Reduce the core temperature by placing a dampened towel on the dog. Then add a jug of cool water (not icy cold) to the towel. This will provide a more of an even placement of the cool water without making the dog go into shock. Often water just slides off the coat so it is important to use a towel or any absorbent fabric.

Make sure you cool the dogs paws too!

It is important to note that when the temperature of the towel is equal to the body temperature of a hot dog it will need more water adding to it otherwise it will not make any difference but worsen the situation by creating an insulating layer to the heat. So if you do not have any more water and the towel has become warm – REMOVE the towel.

You can place cold water bottles next to the dog.

If the dog is already struggling to breathe and is collapsed get to the vets as quickly as you can.

Ultimately if your dog is suffering from heatstroke then it will require veterinary help so once you have taken some first aid measures (the wet towel being the most important, this will also help whilst on route to the vets) get your dog to the vets ASAP as potentially blood samples may need to be taken to check renal function.

A vet is likely to place your dog on a drip. This is an effective and efficient way in reducing body temperature.

A vet will monitor the temperature every fifteen minutes so as to ensure the temperature is not reduced too dramatically. (which should hopefully prevent the body going into shock).

Once the correct body temperature has been reached then the rectal temperature still needs to be monitored to ensure it doesn’t start to rise again.

At this point the dog needs to be dried thoroughly to ensure it doesn’t get cold.

This advice is to be used alongside that of a vet – use the advice for first aid measures ONLY and please get your dog seen by a vet if you suspect your dog has heatstroke.

Prevention is better than cure – so if you know you cannot avoid being in the sun for long periods of time with your dog, take plenty of water, you could use a cooling jacket (the jacket is drenched in water and rung out, it keeps the chest area cool, the cooling jacket must be kept wet otherwise it will NOT work or a cooling bandana made out of towelling, soaked in water, rung out, then tied around the neck, again must remain wet). Try and stay in the shade when you can.

DO NOT exercise your dog in extreme heat.

You could buy a cool mat, this will help if your dog will lay on the mat as it will help keep the dog cooler.

Ultimately you should avoid excessive exposure to extreme heat.

NEVER leave your dog in the car with no ventilation.

Another issue associated with the hot sun is burnt paws from walking on hot pavements so please make sure you avoid walking on tarmac. If it is hot for your hand then it is too hot for their paws!

Also keep an eye out for sunburn too – lighter coated dogs are more likely to suffer from sunburn.  You can use suncream to protect your dog. Ears and noses are the most vulnerable areas. If you need to treat for sunburn you can use zinc cream (baby barrier cream).

ALL advice contained in this article is not in place of a vets advice.

Please take care in the warmer weather and don’t become a victim to heatstroke.

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