Summer is again upon us and the temperatures are soaring. But while we are trying to cool down in air conditioning or by swimming in the oceans and pools, think about our furry friends who are feeling the heat as much as us, if not more.
Most of the time heat stroke happens to dogs on days that are exceptionally hot. Heat stroke is most common in very old dogs, in overweight dogs or in very young puppies that are prone to over-exerting themselves. Brachycephalic dogs- dogs with short noses such as boxers or pugs- are particularly prone to heat stress.
Dogs are not as efficient at releasing heat as we are; they are built to conserve rather than release heat and tend to heat up much faster than we do. Dogs cannot and do not sweat!! So the only way they have of releasing heat from their body is through panting, jumping into cool water, sitting in shade, etc. As such, we may not be aware of the fact that a dog is becoming overheated until symptoms suddenly develop. Heat stroke in dogs is a very serious condition and its onset can be sudden, escalating into an emergency situation in a matter of minutes. Knowing how to recognize and quickly treat a dog experiencing heat stroke may be vital to saving your dog’s life.
Dogs suffering from heat stroke will become restless and uncomfortable as their body temperature rises. They will pant, have trouble breathing and feel weak and lethargic. They may whimper, cry out or bark as their discomfort increases. Eventually, affected animals will be in so much distress that they will lie down or simply collapse, becoming listless and slip into a coma. Unfortunately, by this point, death is fairly imminent unless the dog receives immediate and aggressive medical attention. Other signs of heat stroke include frothing/ foaming at the mouth, excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of co-ordination, very red gums and seizures.
There are some things that owners can do to increase a dog’s chances of surviving heat stroke and emergency measures to cool the dog must begin immediately. The dog should be taken out of any enclosed or hot environment and moved immediately to shade, under fans or into an air-conditioned room if possible. If possible the owner should take the dog’s rectal temperature every fifteen minutes or so once they have recognized the signs of heat stroke and moved the dog to a cool place. If the dog’s temperature is higher than 40.C the owner should quickly try to cool it before even calling a veterinarian.
You can cool a dog by wetting them with cool water from a garden hose or spray bottle or by immersing it in a tub of cool water for a minute or two. The dog should NOT be immersed in ice or ice-cold water. Cooling an overheated dog too quickly can cause its blood vessels to constrict which will slow down heat dissipation.
The damp dog can be placed in front of an electric fan, if one is available. Cold packs can be applied to the groin area and to the paw pads, or methanol (alcohol) can be applied to the foot pads, under the front armpits (axilla) and on the groin and flanks to enhance cooling.
Once you have managed to decrease your dog’s temperature below 40.C take the dog to the vet clinic.
At the vet your dog will often be placed on intravenous fluids to try and cool down the core body temperature as well as replace the fluids and electrolytes your dog has lost.
A number of potentially dangerous medical conditions can occur after heat stroke, including heart abnormalities, kidney failure, liver failure, bone marrow problems, laryngeal oedema (fluid swelling), cerebral oedema, disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), seizures and spontaneous bleeding, among others. Unfortunately these symptoms can happen from hours to days after the event and there are no specific drugs to treat heat stroke.
Early recognition and aggressive treatment of heat stroke are important to a successful outcome; the quicker the condition is recognized and treated the better the outcome. Once a dog develops neurological signs, such as seizures or coma, the prognosis is much more guarded.
How to prevent heat stroke
There are a few things you can do to prevent heat stroke.
Provide lots of water and shade for the dog. Don’t try and take the dog out for a run on very hot days. Jog with your dog early in the morning or late in the afternoon, not in the heat of the day and make sure there is plenty of water along the way. Jog on the beach so the dog can go for a swim to cool down.
If you have a long haired dog, such as a golden retriever, clipping the belly and groin area will help it to cool down. Some dogs may need clipping all over during the hot summer months.
If you own a brachycephalic or overweight dog keep it inside in air-conditioning or under a fan on cool tiles if possible. Do only minimal or short bursts of exercise in the early morning for about five to ten minutes only.
Don’t ever leave your dog inside a locked car in the heat of the day. The temperature inside the car can increase up to 80C very quickly and a dog can die in five or ten minutes.
With Dr. Karin O’Connor from Port Vila Vet Clinic in conjunction with Sam’s Animal Welfare. If you have any questions or would like to volunteer to help Sam’s, please call the Vet Clinic on 25702.