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Heatstroke in Dogs

As we leave winter behind, daytime temperatures are rising so we need to be aware of how this is likely to affect our dogs.

Heat affects dogs differently

Dogs do not disperse excess body heat in the same way as us humans. Our skin is covered in pores which excrete a fluid (sweat) which evaporates as the air passes over our bodies. This cools the skin and disperses the excess heat.

Virtually all dogs are covered in fur for the purpose of retaining body heat. A throwback to times when dogs were not housed in centrally heated homes as pets.

A dog’s excess body heat is dispersed via its paws (pads) and nose but relies largely on the passage of cool air over the tongue to facilitate the heat exchange process as the dog pants.

This works well for a dog as long as cool air is available. So, cars are not the best environment to aid this process. Cars are mobile conservatories in which heat can build up quickly to an intolerable level for a dog.

Heatstroke can happen in winter

Conservatories and cars can become extremely warm even when the outdoor temperature is relatively low so you should think twice before leaving a dog in a car on a sunny day in winter. Not to mention spring, summer and autumn!

Leaving a window open will make you feel better about leaving the dog in the vehicle but will be of little use unless the dog can get it’s head out into the cooler air. Even then, the build-up of heat trapped in the vehicle is likely to greatly outweigh the amount of body heat the dog can disperse.

I have witnessed a dog suffering heat exhaustion in a vehicle as early in the year as March, so do not fall into the trap of thinking it will be fine because the outside temperature is only 14 degrees (Celsius) or so.

It’s not just vehicles

Also, do not just associate heatstroke with vehicles. Many houses have conservatories so it’s important to ensure your dog does not have access to the conservatory when left at home.

Consider this: some years ago, on a warm summer’s day a friend took his dog for a walk then left the dog in the garden and went indoors to get on with some DIY. Although there were plenty of shaded areas in the garden, the dog chose to rest in a sunny spot. It fell asleep, overheated and was dead by the time my friend returned to the garden an hour or two later.

So do check on your dog regularly at home too. My five top tips to avoid heatstroke in dogs are:

1) Think twice about leaving your dog in a vehicle for any length of time particularly in spring, summer and autumn.

2) Park in complete shade and remember your shady spot will change as the sun moves across the sky.

3) Secure your dog in a crate and leave the tailgate open. Place something over the vehicle/crate to create shade. Also, open windows to allow a good flow of air through the vehicle. If you are worried about security, use scissor type grills on the windows. You can buy a security bolt which will allow you lock the tailgate open by about six inches.

4) Leave your dog with plenty of water.

5) Be prepared to check your dog regularly to make sure it is OK.

Treatment for Heatstroke in Dogs

Immediately move the dog to a shaded area (but not indoors unless air conditioned). Cool the dog by placing it in a bath of cool/tepid water (very cold water will inhibit the cooling process by constricting the blood vessels) or pouring the water over the dog.

You can use a hose pipe as long as the water is not too cold. Carefully pour water over its head as well as its body. If you use towels soaked in water, don’t leave the towels draped over the dog as they may serve to trap the excess heat in the dog’s body. Having commenced the cooling process call your vet for further advice.

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