Summertime and Overheating

It’s summer in Washington – time for tourists, ice cream and panting dogs. We at District Veterinary Hospital want you to be aware of the dangers posed by overheated dogs. It is imperative that all dog owners and people caring for dogs understand the dangers of overheating, known as hyperthermia. A dog’s body temperature may  become elevated secondary to an infection (fever) or from not being able to cool itself off effectively. Both conditions can be dangerous.

Hyperthermia in a dog can be life-threatening – and I have seen deaths from overheating in the past. The normal temperature of a dog is around 101.5°F, plus or minus a degree. Dogs certainly can have an elevated temperature when exercising, but if it exceeds 105°F, the dog is in an emergency situation. This is called heatstroke and it may occur when dogs are in the following situations:

  • Locked in a car with no ventilation (even on relatively mild days)
  • Playing hard in hot and humid weather
  • Staying outside without adequate shade or water
  • Poor ability to regulate temperature (bulldogs, pugs, and other breeds with short / squat noses)
  • Other underlying medical conditions

Special attention to heat should be paid by owners of bulldogs, pugs, maltese, Boston terriers, and other short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds. Older dogs are also more prone to heat problems, especially Labrador retrievers, The problem is that dogs mostly cool off via breathing out hot air – panting. If you have a short nose with poor passage of air, you can readily overheat. Some older labs (all larger breed dogs, too) can have a condition called laryngeal paralysis – where the opening for the trachea in the larynx isn’t held fully open by the muscles in the throat. This causes poor passage of air, too. Also don’t forget that overweight dogs have the same amount of lung as a normal-weight dog – but the lungs have to work even harder.

The first sign of heat stroke is panting and distress, leading to excessive drooling, unsteadiness and possibly very red or even purple gums and ears. You must take action immediately! Here’s what you should do:

  • Get your dog out of the heat
  • Move to a cool, shaded area
  • Get fan and blow air over the dog
  • Place wet towels over the dog’s neck, wet the feet with cool water
  • Seek veterinary care asap

There are things that you should not do as they may worsen the problem:

  • Do not give your dog ice or ice water
  • Do not bathe in cold water
  • Do not leave the dog unattended
  • Do not force the dog to drink

Why should you not dunk the dog in cold water? While the goal is to rapidly reduce the dog’s temperature, rapid cooling causes the blood vessels closest to the cold water to shrivel some, therefore insulating the deeper tissues and preventing them from venting their heat.

Hyperthermia can damage many organ systems, including muscle, kidneys, heart, brain and others. The best treatment is prevention! Don’t leave your dog in the car, stay out of the heat of the day and always remember to take it easy in the heat. If you ever have questions, call us here at District Vet, we are happy to help.

– dan teich, dvm (2014)

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