Recognizing, Preventing, And Treating Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stroke In Dogs
By: Dr. Roger Welton Maybeck Animal Hospital
Unlike humans, dogs generally do not have apocrine glands throughout their skin to generate sweat when their bodies are overheated. They only have a limited number of these types of glands within the pads of their paws (this is important to know – more on paws and management of heat stress below). This gives them a very limited capacity to release body heat via the evaporation of sweat, leaving them with only panting as a reliable mechanism to release excess body heat. These traits can prove to be very dangerous in hot summer weather wearing a fur coat.
I was inspired to write this article when just yesterday I saw one of my neighbor’s teenagers walking his Siberian Husky and Welsh Corgi in the middle of the afternoon during the hottest part of the day. The teenager is a nice boy most certainly not wanting to do any harm to his dogs, but clearly did not understand the danger he was putting them in.
Huskies are in a class of arctic working dogs called Spitz breeds. Welsh Corgis as their name indicates originated from Wales, an area of the world that is known to be much cooler. A comfortable temperature for a Husky is 20 degrees F and covered with snow. Both breeds have hair coats designed for cooler weather with coarse guard hairs that are made water resistant with a secreted wax called sebum and a dense undercoat beneath for warmth.
Just a few houses away from the home, the dogs were already starting to show signs of heat stress. They were panting extremely, and holding their heads unusually high to accommodate the necessity to pant. This is the beginning phase of hyperthermia which starts with heat stress and heat exhaustion but left unchecked and unaddressed will eventually lead to heat stroke and seizure.
While the temperature rise of hyperthermia is very dangerous in and of itself, its consequences are far more than just a rise in temperature. Panting at that extreme is not an efficient means to breathe, which leads to a condition known as hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation to the tissues and organ systems. Hypoxia increases carbon dioxide levels in the blood stream which leads a systemic destabilizing condition known as metabolic acidosis.
There is a happy ending to this story, as this nice young man knows I am a veterinarian and I politely advised him to get his dogs back home in the air conditioning ASAP, offer them cold water to drink, and save walking times for very early in the morning or in the evening at dusk or after dark.
Below are other precautions dog owners can take to prevent heat stress or heat stroke in dogs:
As already stated, keep walking and exercise relegated to early mornings and evenings. Even during these times, the heat and humidity can still be oppressive, so limit exercise to medium paced to brisk walks of 10- 20 minutes duration.
Recognize the early signs of heat stress such as extreme panting and holding head high, as well as excessive drooling. Get them indoors in air conditioning ASAP if you begin to see these signs.
Understand your dog’s breed and recognize if they are suited for cooler climates. If so, consider having them shaved by a groomer in the summer. For example, even at night, a Spitz breed dog can be quite uncomfortable. (If you do have them shaved, limit sun exposure, as they can suffer sun burn just as we can)
In the event of collapse and seizure, get them indoors and pour cool water on them. Soak the paw pads in isopropyl rubbing alcohol, as it has a higher boiling point than water and will more effectively draw heat out of the body via the paws’ apocrine glands. Seek veterinary help ASAP for continued stabilization even if your dog seemingly recovers.
Dr. Welton is the president and one of the attending veterinarians at Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL. Visit him at maybeckvet.com.