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Keep your dogs safe from heat stroke as the weather warms up

13 November 2023

As the warmer weather begins to ramp up in spring and summer, the risk of dogs suffering from heat stroke rises too. SPCA has reviewed new research on the topic of how to prevent the progression of heat stroke in dogs to keep your pets safe and comfortable.

Keep your dogs safe from heat stroke as the weather warms up

Heat-related illnesses such as heat stress and, the more severe condition, heat stroke can occur in dogs following exercise, or after exposure to hot conditions. Heat stroke caused by exercise is just as likely to be deadly as heat stroke from being left in a hot vehicle. Many pet owners are unaware that heat stroke can be fatal to dogs, so acting quickly is of the utmost importance.

With a warm El Nino summer ahead and many pet owners planning trips to the beach or other outdoor walks, it’s important to be aware of the dangers and know what to do if you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stress or heat stroke.

Signs of heat stress include shade seeking, excessive drooling, or excessive panting. If steps are not taken to help with cooling, heat stress can progress to heat stroke. Dogs suffering from heat stroke may appear confused and wobbly on their feet, have a bright red tongue or dark gums, and show difficulty breathing, tremors or seizures, or diarrhoea/vomiting.

While there are various risk factors that increase the probability of heat stroke occurring, the priority should be to cool dogs early, and rapidly reduce their body temperature.

A recent UK study of dogs presented to a veterinary clinic with heat stroke found only 21.7% of the dogs with heat stroke had been actively cooled before being transported to the vet, and 51.3% of the dogs had been treated using outdated methods.

Outdated advice:

Many websites continue to offer outdated first aid advice to dog owners that recommend “slow” cooling using “tepid but not cold water”, despite extensive evidence that delays to cooling worsen patient outcomes. They may also recommend using damp towels to help dogs cool down, but this can restrict air flow and actually reduce heat loss.

Current advice:

Current best practice veterinary guidelines recommend to “cool first, transport second” as the immediate first aid response for dogs with heatstroke. The recommended cooling method for young, healthy dogs is cold water immersion (i.e. placing the dog in water cooler than the dog). For older dogs or dogs with underlying health problems, pouring water of any temperature that is cooler than the dog over them, combined with air movement from a breeze, fan, or air conditioning (evaporative cooling) is recommended.

Owners should also seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

To decrease the risk of heat stroke occurring in your dog, there are other steps that can be taken:

  • Exercise your dog in the morning or evening, to avoid the hottest time of the day.
  • Always check the heat of the ground before walking your dog on it; if you’re unsure, use the back of your hand to test it first. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws.
  • Never leave your pet inside a car, even if the windows are cracked. Temperatures can rise quickly inside, even with the windows cracked and while parked in the shade.
  • Always have water on hand for your dog when out and about, and encourage them to drink regularly.
  • Take extra care with dogs with flat faces, dogs over 12 years of age and overweight dogs, as they are more vulnerable to heat stroke.

By taking these steps, and knowing what to do if your dog appears to be suffering from heat stroke, you can ensure they’re kept happy and healthy through the warmer months.

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