Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Summer is rapidly approaching, and it’s already hot outside. Even when the weather is moderately warm, the temperature inside a parked car can rise dangerously high. Heat and humidity put dogs at risk of heat stroke, which can be fatal.
Dogs rely mostly on panting to cool themselves (they sweat only a little from their paw pads). But panting isn’t always enough to keep a dog’s body temperature in the normal range, from about 100°F to 103°F. As the body temperature rises above normal, dogs can develop heat exhaustion. Heat stroke (in dogs) is defined as a body temperature over 105.8°F along with central nervous system dysfunction.
Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency and has a reported death rate of about 50% in dogs. It damages the brain, kidneys, heart, intestines, and other internal organs, and it causes blood clotting disorders.
Causes of heat stroke
Heat stroke is caused either by exposure to heat and humidity or by strenuous physical exertion. These are situations that commonly lead to heat stroke in dogs:
Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, an emergency veterinary medicine specialist, recommends not exercising with your dog if the temperature (in Fahrenheit) plus the humidity level is over 150. So when the temperature is 80°F and the humidity level is 80%, it’s too hot to take your dog on a run (80 + 80 = 160).
Dogs at risk
Although any dog can develop heat stroke, the risk is higher in dogs with these conditions:
Signs of heat stress
Dogs start showing signs of heat exhaustion before they develop full-blown heat stroke. Watch for the warning signs, which become more severe as heat stroke sets in:
If you see signs of heat exhaustion in your dog, carry him to a cooler place immediately; at least get him into the shade. Wet him down with cool water (ice is not necessary) and give him water if he’s able to drink on his own. Take him to a veterinary clinic right away if he has any of the more severe signs or if you’re not sure whether he’s OK after a few minutes. It’s much better to take in a dog who turns out to be fine than to delay treatment for a dog who has heat stroke.
Preventing heat stroke
Photo by Kasia Koziatek