Heatstroke in Dogs
This video has been published by the Kennel Club to highlight the risks of dogs in cars in the summer and show just how quickly a parked car can become dangerously hot and your dog suffer heatstroke.
When it is pleasantly warm outside, 21C (70F) the temperature inside a parked car is 26c (79F). After 10 minutes the temperature has risen to 31C(88F) and in a further 10 minutes reaches 38C (100F). The dog’s normal body temperature is 100 – 102.5F.
Because dogs can only cool themselves by panting, once the air becomes warm the cooling effect is lost and the dog has no control of its body temperature. At 2F over the dog’s normal body temperature brain damage is possible and the internal organs will start to fail and the dog has heatstroke.
What is astonishing is how fast this happens in a parked car. In 20 minutes the car has gone from being comfortably warm to dangerously overheated, and the dog is in serious danger. An open window and bowl of water are no help in this situation, he needs rapid cooling.
Symptoms of heatstroke in dogs are:
- Heavy panting and some difficulty breathing
- The tongue and gums are bright red and the saliva thick and viscous
- He may vomit
- He may pass bloody diarrhea
- In the later stages the lips and gums become grey
Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency and action must be taken at once, which generally means before you have access to veterinary care. What you can do obviously depends on what resources are to hand, but all of these will help stop the dog becoming more seriously ill:
- Take the dog somewhere cool, preferably an air-conditioned building
- Take his temperature – you need a rectal thermometer for this – so it may not be practical in an emergency. If the dog’s temperature is above 104F then rapid cooling is essential. Once the temperature is down to 103F dry the dog if he has been soaked to avoid the risk of chilling and hypothermia
- If you do not have a thermometer you will have to use visual signs to decide when to stop cooling him and dry him off, but they should be fairly obvious as his distress will visibly reduce. If he starts shivering you must stop all cooling at once and attempt to stabilise him.
- Spray the dog with cold water or put him in a bath of cool water
- Target the areas of the body where there is little or no coat to apply cool, wet cloths. Groin and paws are obvious areas. Standing him in water to cover his feet will help – a lot of blood circulates through the feet. Depending on the body shape you could wrap a cool wet cloth around his neck. Major blood vessels are close to the surface in the neck, so this should help. Drape him with soaked towels
- Get him to a vet as quickly as possible. It may be he will be none the worse for the experience, but possible complications from heatstroke may arise and develop over several days
- Don’t panic - he will be very scared and need you reassurance, so however stressed and panicky you feel, keep a calm voice and tell him everything’s ok
Don’t Let Your Dog be a Casualty
Every year dogs die of heatstroke in cars, but they are also at risk in caravans and conservatories where temperatures can become dangerously high, so be aware of the risks there, too. Many of us enjoy the company of our dogs in the car, and many dogs love a car ride, but in warm weather it is much safer to leave him at home and put up with the reproachful looks.