We previously touched on heatstroke in our August 12th, 2021 Staff Chat “Why is my dog panting so much?” – but, with hotter weather returning to central Ohio, it’s a good time for some reminders of what causes heatstroke, how to identify it, and what you should do if you feel your canine companion is suffering from it.
First, and extremely high on the importance list, the most common cause of heatstroke – a dog being left in the car while their owner goes into the store for “just a minute”. The temperature in a closed car can become dangerously high in a matter of minutes…the heatstroke that has a strong probability of happening because of this, also has a strong probability of causing medical concerns to your dog, and can in some cases be fatal.
Other causal factors for heatstroke? Excessive exercise or play in a hot and/or muggy environment, lack of shade on a hot summer’s day, an inadequate supply of water when outside, or health issues such as cardiac disease, obesity, or tracheal collapse. Some breeds have the odds increased against them, also – brachycephalic dogs such as Boxers, American Bullies, Pugs, French Bulldogs, etc. Long haired dogs – always wearing that thick fur coat – are more susceptible, too.
What are the early warning signs? What indications should you be looking out for, and what do you do if you’ve detected them?
Let’s start with the “simple stuff” – visual indicators that something might not be right. The primary way a dog cools off is by panting – when they pant, moisture is evaporated by air passing over and through their tongues, nasal passages, and the lining of their lungs. If you notice heavy panting and rapid breathing – the process just described is most likely not taking care of their cooling needs. Excessive drooling, and a bright red tongue and/or gums, are also good visual indicators that your dog is not able to keep up with the cooling their bodies require. They may also show signs of hyperactivity, or have difficulty maintaining their balance.
Let’s continue with “simple stuff” – easy ways to cool your pet off when you notice these warning signs. Get them out of the sun, and into the shade. Even better, get them into an air-conditioned building. Spray or sponge their body with cool or tepid water – not cold! Do not immerse them in cold water, either. Using a fan to blow cool air on them will help, also.
In mild cases, which could be considered heat exhaustion rather than heat stroke, the previously described steps have a strong chance of helping your pet get back to being able to self-regulate their cooling. If so, it’s time to call it a day – allow them to relax in a cool area so they can fully recover.
However, if these signs persist after taking these steps, it’s best not to adopt a “wait and see” attitude. It’s time to call us, or an emergency clinic if we’re not open, to get your pet seen. The longer heat stroke persists, the greater the risks to your pet’s health – if left untreated, heat stroke can be fatal.
We’ll follow up in our next Staff Chat, and discuss further signs and complications should heat stroke progress. As always, if you’re unsure, please call – we want you and your furry family to enjoy a happy, healthy, long life together!
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