If you notice signs of your dog overheating -- such as heavy panting, restlessness, excessive drooling, bright red gums, respiratory difficulties, disorientation or collapse -- take immediate action to reduce his temperature, and get him to a veterinarian. When a dog's body temperature rises above 105 degrees, it can be life-threatening.
When Panting Doesn't Do It
Body temperature for a dog is normal at 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. When it rises, a dog eliminates body heat mostly by panting. But if an environment is too hot or too humid, panting becomes ineffective. When a dog's body temperature rapidly rises, he's at risk of hyperthermia, also known as heatstroke.
Situations That Can Lead to Heatstroke
Your dog can be at risk of heatstroke if he is out in the yard on a hot day. You need to make sure he has adequate shade and, whether he is outside or indoors, cool water at all times.
Exercising in hot weather can cause heatstroke. On hot days, early morning and evening walks can reduce the risk. Take water with you, take shorter walks, and let your dog rest if he needs to.
Matted fur is more likely to trap heat. Keeping a dog's coat well-groomed can help to prevent him from overheating. Never shave or cut a long-haired or thick-coated dog's fur, because it protects from the sun as much as it protects from cold. Meanwhile, lengthy exposure to a warm hairdrier can be a cause of heatstroke.
If your dog needs to wear a muzzle for any reason, be aware it restricts his ability to pant, placing him at greater risk of heat stress.
Heatstroke commonly occurs when a dog is left in a vehicle without adequate ventilation. According to the Alldredge Veterinary Hospital's website, temperatures can rise from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to 120 degrees in 20 minutes or less in a parked vehicle, even with the windows slightly open.
When a dog starts to overheat, he will rapidly pant and appear distressed. As the heat stress gets worse, his gums and tongue may turn purple or bright red from lack of oxygen. The skin may feel hot to your touch and may also be bright red. The dog may stagger, grow weak and experience diarrhea or vomiting. Sometimes a dog will drool thick, sticky saliva.
If the dog's excessive drooling suddenly stops, you might think he's adapting to the heat -- but he's not; he's dehydrated. Dehydration can damage the liver, kidneys and heart. If measures aren't taken to reduce an overheating dog's body temperature, heat stroke can occur, leading to seizure, shock, collapse and finally coma and death.
What to Do and Not Do
If your dog is suffering from heatstroke, immediately move him to a cool, shaded place. Wrap cool -- not cold -- wet towels around his neck, chest, abdomen and legs, and wet his ear flaps and paws. Don't use cold water, ice baths or ice: Cold substances on an overheated body cause blood vessels to constrict, retaining heat. Directing a fan on your dog can help to speed up the cooling process. Offer cool water to your dog, but don't force him to drink.
With cooling measures in place, take your dog's rectal temperature every two to three minutes, if possible. As his body temperature is likely to be over 105 degrees Fahrenheit, aim to bring it down to 102.5 to 103 degrees before stopping the emergency treatment.
Without delay, take your dog to the nearest veterinarian, even if he seems to have recovered. Heatstroke can cause widespread damage to your dog's internal organs that may not be apparent until hours or days later.
Breeds and Dogs at Greater Risk
Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds such as bulldogs, pugs, boxers and Pekingese are highly susceptible to heat stroke. When a brachycephalic dog pants, he has to work hard to get enough air. The effort generates more heat, making the situation even worse.
Other kinds of dogs can also be more susceptible to heat stroke. A dog with a thick coat or with a dark coat, which easily absorbs and retains heat, will find it harder to cool down. If your dog is old, is overweight or has a medical condition such as heart disease, he is also at greater risk. Any dog with a prior experience of heatstroke will be more vulnerable to overheating, as his thermoregulatory center will have been damaged.
- Caring for Your Dog; Dr. Bruce Fogle
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Heatstroke
- Veterinary Partner.com: Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke, Heat Prostration)
- Alldredge Veterinary Hospital: What if My Pet Experiences a Heat Stroke?
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Heat Stroke in Dogs
- VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists Animal Hospital: Heat Stress Injury Prevention and Care
- The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Tips on Avoiding Heat Stroke and a Trip to the Emergency Room
- VeterinaryPartner.com: Breathless: Bulldogs, Pugs Need Protection From the Heat
- Photo Credit Chalabala/iStock/Getty Images