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Heatstroke can be fatal, often occurring if a dog is kept shut up in a house or car without shade, ventilation or water. It can also occur after vigorous exercise in warm weather and following stress or over-excitement.

Avoiding heatstroke

Factors that can increase a dog’s risk of developing heatstroke include:

  • Lack of water.
  • Enclosed space.
  • Excessive humidity.
  • Obesity.
  • Intense exercise.
  • Old age.
  • Cardiovascular disease or respiratory disease.
  • Lack of acclimatisation.
  • Short-faced breeds, such as Boxers, Bulldogs, Pugs and Pekingese, and dogs with heavy coats (e.g. Husky, Newfoundland), are at particular risk.

All it really takes to avoid this serious problem is diligence and common sense.

  • As temperatures rise, dogs become more vulnerable to heat stress. Maintaining a comfortable environment for your dog is important, so provide plenty of cool, fresh water to help keep your dog cool throughout the summer.
  • If you go on a journey, remember to take water along and also a towel. A wet towel is an effective way of cooling down your dog. Avoid travelling during the hottest times of the day.
  • NEVER, ever leave your dog in the car. Confinement in a car or any other poorly ventilated enclosure can be fatal, and will leave owners liable to prosecution. One study reports that when the outside temperature is 26ºC /78ºF, the inside of a car will reach 32ºC /90ºF in five minutes, and 43ºC /110ºF in 25 minutes! Even a few minutes is too long, so think about your journey and avoid taking your dog at all if the weather is hot.
  • Avoid exercising your dog too much during hot days or warm, humid nights. The best time to exercise is either early in the morning before sunrise, or late in the evening after the sun goes down. This is particularly important for dogs with thick, heavy coats, do not take them out in the middle of the day. Avoid vigorous exercise for all dogs in hot weather. In warm environments with exercise your dog could develop heat stroke in as little as 30 minutes.
  • Never leave your dog in direct sunlight outside.
  • Think twice about visiting busy, outdoor events on hot summer days

Signs of heatstroke

  • Severe panting.
  • Difficulty breathing (particularly if any respiratory problems).
  • Severe salivating.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Raised temperature (40.5° C or above)
  • Blood in urine,
  • Nose bleeds (and other bleeding problems).
  • Ultimately, collapse and coma.

Treating heatstroke

  • Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible, as heatstroke can be fatal - drive straight to the nearest vet.
  • Remove your dog from the heat into cool or shady area, or into air conditioning.
  • Spray or sponge the dog's body with cool (but not cold) water, being sure the water contacts the skin and doesn’t simply run off the coat. Thoroughly wet the belly and inside the legs.
  • Using a fan is another good way to reduce the temperature.
  • Do not plunge your dog into cold water, or an ice bath, as this actually prevents the animal’s core (central) temperature going down.
  • Very gently massage the legs and body until you reach the vet to improve the circulation to the outside, but as animals with heatstroke can bruise easily be cautious.
  • If the temperature returns to 39.4°C stop the cooling process to ensure you don’t chill your dog as this can lead to hypothermia. However, even if the temperature returns to normal, take your dog to the vets as delayed problems can occur.
  • Gently dry your dog with a towel. If your pet is conscious, give him or her small amounts of water.

Heatstroke is very serious but easily avoided. Contact your vet if you think your dog has heatstroke.

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