Preventing Heatstroke in Dogs: A Vet Tech’s Guide

Published on May 11, 2020 by Charlie Buehler

Dog looking out of a car window on a hot day at risk of heatstroke.

Pet parents can be better pet owners through education from vet techs about nutrition, training, and preventing dogs from suffering heatstroke during the hot, summer months. Preventing heatstroke will ensure your dog is healthy, comfortable, and lives a longer life.

A career as a vet tech is one way for animal lovers to devote their lives to the care of domestic, farm, or exotic pets. Furthermore, dog lovers who enter this field have the opportunity to educate pet parents about the most effective ways of caring for their dogs.

Should You Leave Your Pet in the Car?

Heatstroke is very dangerous, especially to canines. Dogs are more susceptible to problems caused by excessive heat since they can’t handle the hot weather in the same way as humans. A vital tip for dog parents is to never leave a dog in the car. Some owners think their dog is ok in the car if the windows are left open a couple of inches. Leaving pets in the car could be disastrous and is something you should never do. A day that seems moderately warm to humans can have severe results for dogs. Dogs are better left at home where it’s cool and comfortable.

On a warm day, the temperature inside a car can climb very quickly, even if it’s parked in the shade. When it’s 78 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car can rise to 100 degrees within a few minutes. When the temperature is 90 degrees outside, the temperature inside a vehicle can soar as high as 109 degrees in less than 10 minutes. The only way a dog has of cooling itself is by panting and this is not always sufficient to prevent heatstroke.

What to Do if You See a Dog in a Hot Car

Take down the car’s make, model, and license plate number. Have the owner paged in the closest buildings and call the local police department. Don’t leave the scene until the dog has been removed from the car. If the authorities don’t respond or are taking too long to arrive, find one or more witnesses who will back you up and take steps to remove the dog from the car.

Symptoms to watch for:

In severe cases of heatstroke in dogs, the tongue and mucus membranes will begin to turn grey when the dog is going into shock. If the dog shows any of these symptoms, it’s essential to get it to a veterinarian immediately. If you aren’t able to get the dog to a veterinary hospital yourself, get the dog into an air-conditioned building as soon as possible and call authorities or animal control. Tell the person you speak with that you have an animal emergency.

What to Do for a Dog in an Emergency

When you’re at home and have an emergency with a dog suffering from heatstroke, here’s what to do. If the dog isn’t conscious, don’t let any water enter the mouth or nose. Don’t offer aspirin to lower their temperature; it can cause other problems.

Put your dog in the bathtub with cool water or use the hose to wet the dog down. Make sure to let all the hot water out of the hose first. If a bathtub isn’t accessible, you can soak a towel in cool water and place it on the dog’s back.

You can run a refreshing shower over the dog’s neck and back but don’t submerge its head in the water; pneumonia could result. Don’t force your dog to drink water but allow it to drink as much cool water as it will take. Ice or ice water should never be used to cool a dog down. Extreme cold can cause the dog’s blood vessels to become constricted, and the body temperature may rise even further.

Call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic and tell them you’re on your way. Be specific about the dog’s symptoms and condition. The veterinarian will know the most effective emergency treatment based on your initial assessment. The vet and staff will be ready to treat your dog as soon as you arrive.

How Dogs Get Heatstroke

Preventing heatstroke in a dog is much easier if you know the steps to take before a problem arises. Some dogs are more prone to heat exhaustion than others. Preventing the problem can begin when your dog is young. Allowing a dog to gain excess weight raises the chances of them suffering from heat issues. Make sure your dog gets sufficient exercise and follow the recommendations of your veterinarian for the healthiest and most nutritious diet for your dog.

Some breeds like Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzus, and other breeds with flat faces are more likely to get heatstroke than other breeds. Preventing problems in working dogs like Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds can be as simple as monitoring them during hot weather and making sure they don’t over-exert themselves.

Dogs with heavy, thick coats are more susceptible to heatstroke than short-coated dogs. You may want to have your dog groomed before the hot weather sets in. Another tip is to keep heavy-coated dogs inside during the hottest part of the day and let them get outdoors in the evening when it’s cooler outside.

Preventing heatstroke in dogs that like to be outdoors is as easy as providing plenty of fresh, clean water to drink and comfortable shelter from the sun. A spot beneath a large, shade tree is an excellent place to put a doghouse or other shelter.

What Can Heatstroke Do to a Dog?

Dogs sweat through their nose and paw pads. However, this isn’t enough to release a lot of excess heat, so dogs pant. Panting is sufficient, except when the temperature is hot. When the dog’s body temperature is too high, the cellular system and organs break down and cease to function as they should. If the dog’s body temperature reaches 106 degrees, the damage may be irreversible.

How to Keep Dogs Hydrated During the Summer

Keeping your dog happy, healthy, and safe from the extreme temperatures of summer can be accomplished with these steps.

  1. Dogs love to go on walks and explore their neighborhood, but in the warm weather, you should confine your walks to very early in the morning or later in the evening. Exercise is essential for dogs and their owners, but preventing heatstroke is vital to your dog’s health.
  2. Always keep your dog’s water bowl full. If your dog is allowed in and out through a pet door, make sure to keep a bowl of fresh, cool water where it’s easily accessible indoors and outside. If the temperature gets too high, keep your pet indoors until the temperature cools off. You might put a couple of ice cubes in the water as a treat. Some dogs like to play with them too.
  3. When you’re giving your dog some outdoor time for exercise or going for a walk, it’s always a good idea to have water readily available for them. You should take a bottle filled with cold water when you’re planning to be outside with your dog. Pet stores and online suppliers sell portable water bowls that are excellent for walks.
  4. Dog booties are a perfect idea if you can get your dog accustomed to wearing them. The pavement gets extremely hot and can burn the pads of a dog’s feet. Even if you confine your walks to early morning and late evening, your dog may like wearing booties. They come in handy when the weather turns cold too.
  5. Keep your dog cool at night. A lot of dogs love snuggling in their beds, but traditional beds can be hot. You may want to invest in a mesh-style dog bed that’s elevated from the floor to keep your dog cool and comfortable at night.

Precautions for the Summer Months

Besides providing your dog with plenty of cold water to drink and a place to relax out of the sunshine when outside, another way to ensure your dog is calm and comfortable is to use pet cooling pads. The pads are available in different sizes to suit your dog’s breed and have a gel substance inside that keeps the dog cool in the summer. The pads are ideal for outdoor kennels that are in a shady place to provide your dog with extra comfort. Some pet parents place cooling pads in their dog’s bed to keep them comfortable all night.

Ways to Prevent Heatstroke in Dogs

Preventing heatstroke in dogs is easy when you follow a few simple steps. Veterinarians recommend keeping your dog in the house during the summer, except for the occasional potty break.

If your dog must be outside, make sure to have a shelter that’s cool and out of the sunshine. Placing a kennel or shelter under a tree with a lot of shade is a good plan. It’s a good idea to keep several bowls of water around the yard in places your dog likes to explore.

Another way to keep your dog fresh is with a child’s wading pool. Some dogs like to splash around in the water to cool off. Make sure to place the pool in a place that will be in the shade as the sun moves throughout the day.

Even though veterinarians warn dog owners about leaving their pets in the car in the summer, some people think it’s ok to leave them for a minute or two to run a quick errand. Think about how hot it gets inside your car on a warm day, even if the outside temperature isn’t extremely high. A car acts like a greenhouse trapping the heat inside. A minute or two may be all it takes for your pet to suffer from heatstroke.

If your dog has been outside when it’s hot and starts to exhibit any symptoms of heatstroke, especially stumbling, showing signs of weakness and disorientation, panting excessively, or breathing heavily, get your pet to a cool spot immediately and offer cold water for it to drink. If your dog doesn’t start to respond right away, call your veterinarian.

Final Thoughts

You can keep your dog healthy and comfortable at any time of the year if you’re aware of seasonal hazards that can be harmful and potentially life-threatening to pets. Summer is the perfect time to share fun activities with your pet, but make sure you know how to handle situations that could be harmful to your pup.

Did learning about preventing heatstroke in dogs interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an Associate Degree in Veterinary Technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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