Q. The weather is very warm recently. What are the symptoms of heat stroke in dogs and how can I try to prevent it?
Dr. Brian Loon: Heat stroke is a very serious and potentially life-threatening condition. Dogs are the most common type of pets to suffer from heat stroke, usually after they have been out for a walk in the hot sun.
Pets can also be prone to heat stroke if kept in a vehicle. Excessive body temperature can cause damage to almost all organs in the body, especially the brain, liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract, very quickly leading to death.
Signs of heat stroke (affected pets may not show ALL of these signs):
- Excessive panting and salivation
- Red or pale gums
- Bruising of the gums and/or skin
If a dog has been exposed to a hot environment and develops any of the above signs, bring him to a veterinarian immediately for urgent medical attention.
While making your way to the veterinarian, you can help by doing the following:
- Measure the rectal temperature with a digital thermometer, if you know how to do so safely. Normal body temperature for dogs and cats is approximately 38 to 39.5°C. Dogs suffering from heatstroke typically have a body temperature of more than 41°C
- Move your dog to a cool, shaded area and direct a fan towards him
- Cool the body by placing cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, under the armpits, and at the groin areas
- Call your veterinary clinic to inform them of your dog’s condition and arrival so necessary preparations can be made for your dog’s care
Note: Practising the measures above does not replace immediate veterinary attention.
Things NOT to do:
- Do not panic
- Do not use ice or cold water to cool your dog. Overcooling shrinks blood vessels around the body, which leads to trapping of heat within the body
- Do not force water into your dog’s mouth. You may offer water if your dog is alert and able to drink by himself
- Do not leave your dog unattended
An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Here are some heat stroke prevention tips:
- Avoid walks or intensive activities during hot periods of the day. Walk your dog in the early morning or at night when it is cooler
- Never leave your dog in a vehicle with the air-conditioning switched off, no matter how short a period of time
- Watch your dog closely during walks or exercise and allow immediate rest when he looks tired or unwilling to walk
- Provide fresh drinking water at all times, especially after a walk or exercise
- Provide a well-ventilated, shaded area for rest after walks or exercise
- Keep your dog’s coat short, especially during hot seasons
- Obese dogs are more prone to heat stroke. Another good reason to trim that fat!
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