How Hot is Too Hot?

As we look forward to the fun summer days ahead, having outdoor parties, maybe lounging by the pool; we know the heat from the sun can some days be just a little too hot to handle! The same goes for our four-legged companions! We do have to think about the effects of the heat on our dogs, as a fun day hanging with your pal can quickly turn into an emergency situation!

When the heat of the sun comes out, our bodies heat up and to help us cool off (simply put), we sweat! We have millions of these little sweat glands spread out all over our body to help us cool off. For our dogs, it works quite different. They have very few areas that help to release the heat from their bodies. The most common way is through panting; and as well they can ‘sweat’ through the pads of their feet.

We all should know by now that pets should NEVER be left in cars during the summer as the temperature inside of a car quickly increases to dangerous levels. And while that’s probably one of the most common causes of pet heatstroke, it isn’t the only one. In fact, your pets can become heat stressed while playing outside (especially if they just don’t know when to quit, mmmhmmm – sound familiar?). Another way to become heat stressed is being left in un-air-conditioned / non-ventilated buildings, or spending too much time just chilling with us laying in the back yard, bathing in the direct sun. Additionally, short-nosed breeds of dogs (like pugs, boxers, or bulldogs for example), pets with dark colored fur, and overweight or obese pets are especially predisposed to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

So how do you tell if your pet is starting to get overheated?

Symptoms of Heat Stress:

Normal body temperature for dogs is 38.3 to 39.2 degrees Celsius. Anything higher than 39.7 Celsius is considered hyperthermia and may indicate heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Because fever is not always obvious, there are other signs that can alert us to heat stress! The first thing to remember is that if we’re feeling hot, it’s likely our dogs are too. The first indication your dog is reacting to being too hot, is they will start to pant. Of course, panting is a normal occurrence for dogs, and not usually a concern as this will usually be sufficient to help cool them off.

But, if the body cannot regulate through just panting to help dissipate the excess heat, he or she will begin to act restless and distressed looking for a cooler spot. The panting will then increase in speed and intensity. They may begin salivating excessively. They may develop bright red gums, and their heart rates and body temperatures will begin to rise. Vomiting and diarrhea can also be symptoms. These are all early signs of heatstroke and all should be taken seriously. If no relief is found, symptoms will worsen quickly, sometimes within minutes even, as we see with dogs left in cars. As this happens, they can have seizures or go into shock.  You might see cyanosis (where their gums go from that bright red we talked about to purple or blue), and if not treated as an emergency, sadly death can occur.

First Aid, Treatment and Recovery

IF YOU THINK YOUR DOG IS HAVING HEAT STROKE, CALL YOUR VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY!

If caught early, the best remedy is to take action to help cool him/her off. Move to a cooler location, with good air flow and provide cool water to drink. At this stage, he/she may be fine; though you should continue to monitor and make sure he/she is cooling down and not displaying any other signs of stress. Anything more than panting and restlessness needs more extensive first aid and immediate veterinary attention should be arranged.

If early still and you suspect your dog is in discomfort due to the heat, you can wet the dog with lukewarm water and increase air flow around him to help bring down his body temperature. Don’t ever use very cold water/ice in these situations – cooling your pet too quickly will make things worse and can cause other complications! Placing towels soaked in cool/lukewarm water on your pet, have him lay on a wet towel, and as well, you can place a towel between his legs and across his neck.

Providing these first aid measures should not delay getting him to the doctor, though. Heat stroke can be life-threatening, causing organ failure, brain swelling, and blood clotting disorders, among other things – so it’s very important to get him medical attention immediately. While pets that are treated early on can recover, prolonged or severe heat stress can have long-term consequences.

I think we all know now that preventing heat stress, whether it leads to heat exhaustion or heatstroke, is far better than having to treat it. Ensuring he has lots of fresh cool water to drink, that he has a shaded, cool place to retreat to during the summer, and is  encouraged to rest often and not overdo it during the hottest times of day are all excellent ways of doing that. We also need to be mindful as his caregiver and know when to call it a day!  Also, don’t feel guilty leaving Fido home if the temperatures during the day are expected to rise too high. Not only is this the best way to prevent the possibility of accidentally leaving him in a hot car, it is also a great training opportunity! If all your best efforts fail, though, seek Veterinary help quickly. Don’t wait! His life may depend on it!

Use this diagram to determine your dog’s potential risk level based on the outside temperature and the size of your breed.