Once the summer sunlight starts to strike us and our surroundings, we become grumpy, uncomfortable, and lazy. Similarly, our pets also suffer from the hot weather, where they sometimes fail to cool their body effectively. And unlike us, they don’t always have access to cooling techniques such as air conditioning and fans. And since our bodies cool themselves differently, your dog might sometimes be more susceptible to heat stress.
Basically, thermoregulation in animals and especially dogs mostly consists of panting. Just like us humans, they use evaporation to release heat from their bodies. The difference is that we do it through sweating but dogs do it through panting. At this point, you might be wondering about the mechanism of action of panting. Generally, panting increases the respiratory rate and allows the rapid exchange between the hot air in the lungs with the cool air in the atmosphere. Panting also allows the rapid evaporation of moisture from the oral and nasal cavity, as well as the tongue causing the body to lose some energy. When moisture evaporates from the tongue, it cools it down, thus cooling down the whole circulatory system.
Generally, if your dog’s living area is shaded, well ventilated, and comfortable it is very unlikely that your dog will undergo a heat stroke. In fact, if your dog has a heat stroke, it’s an indicator of low-quality life conditions. Heat stress in dogs occurs when they’re placed in the sun, in a closed dog house, or the car. These factors contribute to most of the heat stroke cases in dogs but are not always the cause. Other reasons that cause an elevated body temperature include lack of access to water, heavy exercise, and long exposure to a hair dryer. Dogs that exercise for long periods should always be monitored, especially if the environmental temperature is high. In such cases, your dog’s thermoregulation mechanisms might not be able to keep up with the continuously increasing temperatures.
Some dogs are more susceptible to heat strokes than others, depending on the breed, body fat, and coat. Brachycephalic breeds, which are dogs that have flat faces, are more prone to go through heat stress. This is because the panting cooling mechanism is not functioning properly due to the small nasal surface area. As mentioned before, panting cools down the body by allowing evaporation through the nose and the mouth. In brachycephalic dogs it is less effective due to the restricted nasal area, thus making dog breeds such as pugs, boxers, and bulldogs more susceptible.
Another cause of hyperthermia in dogs is an infection-induced fever. Just like us, humans, when we get sick, dogs also suffer from pyrexia when their body is fighting a disease. The body temperature increases due to immune system reactions causing the dog an uncomfortable sensation and lethargy. Sometimes, summer days can make an infectious disease more harmful as it worsens the hyperthermic condition of the body, thus causing more severe consequences.
Detection of heat stress in dogs can sometimes be challenging depending on the degree of overheating. Some signs may vary from slight dehydration and rapid breathing to severe seizures. Generally, the easiest and most simple way to detect hyperthermia in your dog is by measuring its temperature. A dog’s body temperature should be between 38-39 degrees Celsius. If you measure your dog’s rectal temperature and it exceeds 40 degrees, it means that your dog is undergoing a heat stress. And as mentioned before, as the temperature increases the severity of the signs develops and becomes more complicated and harder to deal with. For this reason, it is preferable to be always cautious about your dog’s body temperature. Additionally, signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, very rapid breathing, and bright red gums are strong indications of a heat stroke.
The most obvious sign of heat stress is dehydration, which can also vary from mild (5-7%) to severe dehydration (10-12%) which requires immediate clinical interference. Dehydration can be detected with a very simple procedure. Firstly, check your dog’s mucus membranes and try to detect dryness of oral mucus membranes. Secondly, check your dog’s skin elasticity by pulling the skin and twisting it, and checking how much time the skin needs to get back to its original position. The longer the skin takes to get back, the higher the percentage of dehydration. For example, it takes almost 1-2 seconds for the skin to go back to its form in a normally hydrated dog (normal skin elasticity). On the other hand, it takes up to 4-5 seconds for the skin to return to its shape in a dehydrated dog. This is a very efficient procedure used by veterinarians to detect the degree of dehydration to understand the dog’s need for fluid therapy and how long he should receive it.
Heat stress in dogs is no joke because if your do reaches more than 14% of dehydration, you will undergo a hypovolemic shock and die. This means that they will lose their reserve of water causing the volume of blood to decrease, thus making the blood insufficient for the heart to beat eventually leading to death. There are several procedures one could follow to deal with a heat stroke, but it is always more favorable to take your dog immediately to the veterinarian if you notice any signs of heat stress.
One thing you can do is to eliminate the cause of the heat stroke rapidly. Remove your dog from direct sunlight, and provide him with fresh cool water. Secondly, try to cool the dog by providing ventilation or wetting your dog with some water. You can also choose to place wet towels on your pet’s body if you’re planning to take him to the vet in the car. Keep monitoring your dog’s temperature along the way and try to understand how the condition is progressing.
When you arrive at the Veterinary clinic, your vet will firstly use some of the previously mentioned mechanisms to cool down your dog. Then, he will probably administer fluid therapy through an Intravenous infusion to compensate for the loss of fluid and treat the dehydration. Then, he will most likely run some blood and biochemistry tests to check if there is any organ damage that occurred due to dehydration and poor blood perfusion to the tissues. If this is true, the treatment of heat stress can take up to 2 months in order to fully repair the damage that got to the organs.
These preventative measures are mostly common sense reactions to such problems. They mostly constitute allowing your dog to have an adequate space of shade, access to water, and proper ventilation. Never leave your pet in a sunny area and try to provide him with an open living space. Try not to leave your dog in the car at any cost, because even if the windows are open, the ventilation will not be enough if the car is exposed to direct sunlight. What you can also do to prevent heat stress is to change the walking period of your dog during the summer. This means that you can choose to walk the dog very early in the morning or late in the afternoon to prevent exposure to direct, strong sunlight. Moreover, try to walk with your dog in shaded areas and prevent excessive movement and exercise.
A very creative and efficient way to minimize the incidents of heat stress in dogs during the summer is to change the type of activity that you perform with your dog. Try to decrease the amount of time spent playing fetch and increase summer refreshing activities. These include things like swimming in the pool, running around water sprinkles, and playing water tag. Such activities do not only provide a fun way to cool down your dog’s body temperature, but they also occupy your dog and make your time with your pet more enjoyable. You can also provide your dog with some frozen toys that keep his oral cavity cool and minimizes the degree of panting. Another procedure that one can take is to shave their dog if he has a heavy, thick coat for dogs such as Akita, Husky and German shepherd.
After all, heat stress is an incident that should be taken seriously as it can impose a risk on your pet’s life. Usually, your dog’s body can handle an increase in environmental temperature, but it is sometimes ineffective on extremely hot summer days, For this reason, you should always be prepared to face such issues during the summer when you can perform the first-aid procedure on your own before taking your dog to the vet. Generally, you can always figure out new, fun ways to keep your dog’s body temperature stable and cool. Always consult your veterinarian if you suspect that something is wrong with your dog, and contact us for tips about the dog’s health and lifestyle!