The Evening Standard reported on Monday that two Labradors died following exercise in 21ºC heat. With temperatures reaching ten degrees higher and more I am horrified to see dogs racing after balls and being left outside shops in full sun and being forced to run. Pads can also burn on hot pavements. If it uncomfortable to keep your hand on pavement for longer than 5 seconds, then it is too hot for your dog’s feet.
Dogs have a core body temperature on average 2 degrees higher than a human and are wearing a fur coat. Dogs do not lose heat as efficiently as humans and can continue to overheat for quite a while after exercise even if they are in a cool area. This is particularly true of young, old, overweight and brachycephalic dogs and dogs with underlying conditions such as heart, liver and kidney problems.
Many owners now clip their dogs which means that they have removed any effective natural protection against the sun (or cold and rain) and the ability to reflect heat.
Signs of heat exhaustion (hyperthermia) start at a temperature around 40ºC-41ºC (104ºF to 106ºF). At this stage and if caught early, dogs can usually make a full recovery but veterinary advice should be sought. A temperature over 42ºC (106ºF) can be fatal: immediate veterinary assistance is needed.
A dog suffering from heatstroke will display several signs that can include:
- Rapid panting
- Bright red tongue
- Red or pale gums
- Thick, sticky saliva
- Vomiting – sometimes with blood
- Clinical shock
Remove the dog from the hot area immediately and lower his temperature using cool water (tepid water for very small dogs). Increase air movement around him using a fan if possible. Do not cool the dog too quickly. The rectal temperature should be checked every 5 minutes and cooling stopped at 30ºC (103ºF). Dry the dog thoroughly and cover him. Go to your vet as soon as possible as the dog will need to be checked for dehydration or other complications.
Allow free access to water. It may help to put a pinch of salt and sugar in or use a veterinary rehydrating powder. Do not try to force the dog to drink.
Dogs who suffer from heatstroke once have an increased risk of suffering again.
The best remedy is prevention. Do not take your dog out in high heat and humidity and use a cool coat if that is unavoidable. Use a damp towel or cool mat for your dog to lie on at home and keep him in the shade. If you have a brachycephalic dog and/or one with BOAS, keep his weight down and monitor continually in hot weather as well as taking all the usual precautions. Consider surgery to alleviate the problem.