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Heatstroke and dogs

The primary way dogs dissipate heat is via panting. There are sweat glands in the ears and on the undersides of the paws, but they have only a limited capacity to cool a dog down. Symptoms of heatstroke can include heavy panting, weakness, uncoordinated gait, collapsing, darker than normal appearing tongue and gums, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Drinking lots of water helps, but it will not prevent heatstroke for dogs who work too hard in the heat. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that even with aggressive veterinary care many dogs with heatstroke fail to recover. Death is associated with blood clotting abnormalities, neurological damage and/or organ failure. If you suspect that your dog has heatstroke, the ideal thing to do is spend a few minutes thoroughly wetting your dog down to lower his body temperature before the car ride to the nearest vet. Doing so will enhance his chances of recovery. Cool but not icy cold water should be used in order to avoid too rapid a reduction in body temperature. Use of a garden hose is ideal to quickly accomplish the wetting process. Cool wet towels or ice packs along with the car’s air conditioning can be used during transport. Remember to spend no more than a few minutes with this as delaying veterinary care might decrease the possibility of recovery. Be aware that with excess exertion, heatstroke can occur even on a cool day. Think of the tennis ball addicted dog who keeps on fetching as long as someone keeps on throwing (yet another reason not to repeatedly throw balls and sticks for our dogs). Flat-faced dogs such as Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers are particularly vulnerable in the heat. These brachycephalic (short-muzzle) breeds cannot move air effectively enough through their tiny airways to adequately dissipate body heat. Additionally, the exertion necessary for them to breathe heavily, even in normal conditions, can elevate their body temperature. Overweight dogs and older dogs are also more prone to heatstroke. On a hot day it is best to go for a gentle saunter with your dog in the shade either early in the morning or in the evening - it is also nice to provide a paddle pool if possible. Finally it is never okay to leave your dog in a car on a hot day! The above is based on information provided by Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM June 2015 Marina Gates Fleming is a canine consultant working in Belgium.

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