We humans aren't the only victims of Hong Kong's relentless heat and humidity – our pets are, too! So, here's some expert advice on how to protect your dogs from heat stroke.
Hong Kong is now firmly in the summer months, and we’re all seeking shelter from the blazing sun. Whether you’re taking your dogs camping, hiking, picnicking, or even just on a walk, it’s important to be cognisant of the dangers the heat poses to our furry friends. Read on to learn more about heat stroke in dogs, including its symptoms, the breeds more at risk, as well as the treatments and preventative measures that you can take to ensure your pets’ safety.
How to protect your dogs from heat stroke
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke is a term commonly used for hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) accompanied by clinical signs. The typical body temperature of a dog is about 38.6°C. While infections, seizures, and other illnesses can cause the temperature to go up, a body temperature above 41°C without previous signs of illness and caused by exposure to excessive environmental heat is often referred to as heat stroke. The critical temperature where multiple organ failure, seizures, and death occur is around 41.2°C to 42.7°C.
What are the causes of heat stroke in dogs?
The most common cause of heat stroke in dogs is leaving them in a car without enough ventilation. The dog’s body temperature in this situation can elevate very rapidly, often within minutes. Other common causes of heat stroke in dogs include being left outside without access to shade or water on a hot day; and excessive exercise during hot temperatures.
Excited dogs are sometimes at risk even if the environmental temperature and humidity don’t seem that high. This is particularly true if dogs are kept in a poorly ventilated environment or are wearing a constricting muzzle during exercise, restricting their ability to pant.
Breeds more commonly at risk of heat stroke
All dogs (and all animals, for that matter) are at risk of developing heat stroke. However, some dogs are at a higher risk of heat stroke than others, including:
- Short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds such as pugs, boxers, and bulldogs
- Obese dogs
- Dogs with laryngeal paralysis
- Dogs that are muzzled
Signs and symptoms of heat stroke in dogs
Dogs can’t control their body temperature by sweating as humans do, since they only have a relatively small number of sweat glands located in their footpads. A dog’s primary way of regulating its body temperature is by panting. Thus, the first sign that your dog is getting hot is excessive panting.
There are several other signs and symptoms of heat stroke in dogs to be aware of, including:
- Difficulty breathing
- A bright red tongue
- A racing heart
- Collapse or weakness
Dog heatstroke: First aid and treatment
Safe, controlled reduction of body temperature is a priority, but you must act quickly:
- Remove the dog from the hot environment immediately;
- Allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water and place a towel that has been soaked in cool water around their feet and head. You may also gently spray with tepid water;
- Make your way to a veterinarian, or the nearest emergency animal hospital. Call ahead of your arrival so that they can prepare;
- Never use ice or very cold water – this can cause shock. Dogs suffering from heat stroke need to have their body temperature lowered gradually for the best chance of survival.
How to prevent heat stroke in dogs
As a pet owner, it’s important to be aware of the outside temperature and take careful precautions to prevent heat stroke in dogs:
- When outdoors, always make sure you carry enough water for your dog and are in a well-ventilated area with access to shade;
- Don’t exercise during the hottest part of the day and gradually increase your dog’s exercise over time;
- Never leave your dog unattended in a vehicle;
- In the summer, it’s advised to only walk dogs in the early morning or late evening to avoid the
warmest period of the day, especially if they are a breed that’s at risk.
What is the prognosis for heat stroke?
The course of the condition depends on how high the body temperature elevated, how long the hyperthermia persisted, and what the physical condition of the pet was prior to the heat stroke. Most healthy pets should recover quickly if they are treated immediately and if the body temperature didn’t become extremely high. It’s crucial to note that pets that experience hyperthermia are at greater risk for subsequent heat stroke due to damage to the thermoregulatory centre. If the temperature is high enough to cause organ failure and your dog isn’t treated quickly, heat stroke can be fatal.
Any dog can suffer from heat stroke, and as their owners, we must be mindful of the severe impact of heat on our pets and the practical ways to prevent complications.