The “dog days of summer” are not always the most ideal time for dogs to be outdoors. As summer temperatures soar, so do the incidents of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in pets. Although the terms heat stroke and heat exhaustion tend to be used interchangeably, there are some key differences. Both are potentially dangerous situations for your dog, and it is important to take immediate action to prevent permanent damage or death.
Signs of Heat Exhaustion:
Dogs do not have sweat glands to cool their bodies in the way humans do. When their body heats up, they rely on panting to reduce their body temperature. If they become too warm, or they aren’t panting quickly enough, their body temperature can rise to dangerous levels. Heat exhaustion comes from dehydration, and begins in the early stages of overheating. Early recognition of symptoms may allow for you to take steps to prevent the more deadly heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include vigorous panting, elevated heart rate, nausea, vomiting, weakness, staggering, diarrhea, thick or excess saliva, gasping, lying down and unwillingness to get up, and very dark red, purple, or blue gums. At this point, it is imperative that you take steps to reduce the pet’s body temperature immediately. Get them indoors or to a cool area, soak their fur with water, and provide fresh water to drink. This should be sufficient to bring down their body temperature and prevent further escalation into heat stroke.
Signs of Heat Stroke:
Heat stroke sets in after attempts to cool the dog’s temperature are unsuccessful, or help has arrived too late. Normal body temperature in dogs averages between 101 and 102 degrees. Heat stroke sets in after their body temperature exceeds 105 degrees, and if sustained above this temperature, major organ damage to the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver may occur, and possibly death. In addition to excess body temperature, signs of heat stroke may include confusion, drooling, lethargy or loss of consciousness, rapid heart rate and weak pulse, rapid but shallow breathing, dry gums, refusal to drink, rectal bleeding, and dry hot red skin. At this point, the dog may begin to suffer seizures, and they may slip into a coma. If you discover a dog has heat stroke, try to first reduce the body temperature by bathing or hosing them down with cool water. Take care not to use ice cold water, because this may cause their temperature to plunge too rapidly. While still wet, get them into an air conditioned car and rush them to the vet. You may give small amounts of water to drink, but too much may cause vomiting. If possible, try to keep them in a sitting or standing position to avoid blood clotting. It may be necessary that your pet remain under veterinary care for up to three days, to be sure that all major organs are functioning and the pet has fully recovered.
Once you learn to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, it will be much easier to prevent them from happening in the first place. Just remember to come prepared for outings, so you can enjoy summer fun safely with your canine companion.