Heatstroke in Dogs
South Florida summers mean searing heat, sweltering humidity, and a considerable amount of complaining. Imagine how uncomfortable you would feel if you were forced to wear a fur coat at all times. Now imagine having minimal ways to regulate your body temperature. This is what our dogs must cope with every day, so it is important to be aware of the risk of heatstroke.
Unlike their human companions, dogs only have minimal sweat glands. These are located on the pads of their feet. Dogs also release excess heat by panting, and excessive panting with signs of discomfort can be the first signs of trouble. Sadly, the most common cause of heatstroke is human carelessness. Never leave a pet in a locked car, even on an overcast day. Be sure pets that spend much of their time outdoors have access to shade, fresh water, and ideally, a kiddie pool for fast, safe cooldowns. Be mindful of your pet’s exercise tolerance, especially if he is older, overweight or is a “smushy-faced” breed (bulldogs, pugs, etc.).
If you think your pet may be suffering from heatstroke, bring him to your veterinarian as quickly as possible. If there is someone who can help who while you make the drive, have them apply ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables to your dog’s body and head. Have them vigorously massage the dog’s legs, as increased circulation reduces the risk of shock. Encourage your dog to drink cool or cold water. If you cannot get to your vet, remove your dog from the hot environment and use a garden hose to liberally douse your pet with cool water. If you are physically able, place your dog in a tub of cool water, taking care not to let him inhale or aspirate the water. This should only be done as a last resort if you unable to get your dog to a hospital. Dogs suffering from heatstroke need IV fluids to replace lost fluids and electrolytes, and must be closely monitored for underlying symptoms such as kidney failure, clotting abnormalities, and swelling of the brain. NEVER attempt to reduce a dog’s body temperature with human fever reducers such as aspirin, Tylenol, or Ibuprofen.