How to Avoid Heat Stroke for You and Your Dog

heat stroke in dogsThough very similar, heat stroke has different symptoms than heat exhaustion and unfortunately can be deadly if not caught in the early stages.  Even less severe bouts of heat stroke can cause your dog to become a victim of DIC, an often deadly condition where the dog’s blood coagulates throughout the body and can occur hours or even days after the heatstroke episode.  Heat stroke in people can be deadly as well with an individual going into seizures or even a coma.  So you can see this is a serious matter that you should be well informed on especially because we are involved in a high demand sport with our dogs.

While prevention is the best medicine, mistakes and misjudgements happen so you MUST be familiar with the symptoms of the onset of heat stroke in both handler and dog.  Heat stroke in humans is preceded by heat exhaustion, the symptoms of which are pale skin, fatigue, weakness, dizzy or nauseous, sweating profusely, rapid pulse, fast & shallow breathing, muscle weakness or cramps. It is imperative at the onset of any of these symptoms a person takes immediate action to cool down and drink plenty of water or other fluids containing sugar and salt (electrolytes).  If left unattended it can quickly switch to heat stroke.  You should seek help immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms; skin that feels hot and dry, but not sweaty; confusion or loss of consciousness; throbbing headache; frequent vomiting; shortness of breath or trouble breathing or elevated temperature.  These are all symptoms of the heat stroke.

In dogs you may observe excessive panting; hyperventilation; increased salivation; dry gums that become pale, grayish and tacky; rapid or erratic pulse; weakness; confusion; inattention; vomiting; diarrhea; and possible rectal bleeding.  If the dog continues to overheat, breathing efforts become slowed or absent, and finally, seizures or coma can occur.  If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog you need to take their temperature immediately.  A dog’s normal resting temperature is between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  At 105 the dog begins to experience the effects of heatstroke and at 106 – 108 degrees, the dog will suffer irreversible damage to the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract, heart and brain.  If you cannot get their temp or after you have obtained it, you need to take immediate action in getting your dog cooled down.  Once you get the dog’s temp to start dropping, take them to a veterinarian immediately.  They will need to test the dog, even in less severe cases, to be sure there is no damage done to the liver or kidneys.  A dog that has suffered even a mild case of heat stroke can fall prey to DIC up to 72hrs after the incident.

So what are the best ways to avoid heat stroke?  Take special care when the heat index is 90 degrees F or above.  Drink plenty of fluids staying away from caffeine and alcohol, both of which will cause increased dehydration.  When exerting yourself outdoors you should take in 1 cup of fluids every 10-20 minutes starting 2 hours before the activity with 2 cups of fluids.  Don’t wait until you are thirsty to take in liquids, by then you are already dehydrated.  And don’t forget to keep taking in fluids after the activity is over.  Take frequent breaks inside or in the shade. Wear loose, light weight, light colored clothing, a wide brim hat and sunblock.  Try to do all strenuous work in the early morning or late evening avoiding the mid-day heat.  Don’t be a weekend warrior in the heat.  You really need a week to ten days to acclimate your body to working in the heat.  Take extra precautions if you have to work during the heat of the day and are not acclimated.  Listen to your body and pay close attention to the warning signs.

Believe it or not, some common drugs will put you at a higher risk such as allergy, cough and cold medicines, thyroid, water and even some diet pills.  So if you are on medications be sure to talk to your doctor about your current medications and if they will raise your risk of heat stroke.

For your dogs, keep in mind they do not sweat.  They must cool themselves through respiration, so if the outside air is excessively hot and humid the dog’s body will be unable to cool down quick enough.  Help your dog stay cool with wader pools of cool water they can stand in.  They also cool themselves through the pads of their feet and inner thighs.  Be sure they have plenty of cool, clean water available to them at all times.  You can help them stay cool from the inside out with homemade frozen treats, fruits and vegetables.  See our previous post for more details Keep Your Agility Dogs Cool From The Inside Out.

If you suspect your dog is over heating you need to get them cooled down as soon as possible, but not too quickly.  You will need to use cool running water when available and apply it to the foot pads and inner thighs allowing evaporation to aid in the cooling process.  Using ice or submerging your dog could cause them to cool too quickly and actually cause other complications such as cardiac arrest and bloating.  It will also actually slow the cooling process as it causes blood vessels to constrict and slows the movement of the heat removing blood.  Be sure the dog has plenty of air movement to aid in evaporation and keep the blood moving by keeping the dog standing or walking.  Do not allow your dog to take in large quantities of water.  This can cause vomiting and bloat.  Get your dog to a vet as soon as you get their temperature to start dropping.

If you or your pet experiences heat exhaustion or stroke you will be more sensitive to another episode for about a week.  Give yourself and your dog plenty of time to recover.  And remember, heat stroke is an equal opportunity employer.  It affects even athletes in the right conditions.  No one is immune.

Sources:  William Grant, DVM, a veterinarian for 20 years and former president of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association and