The Ugly Truth About Heat Exhaustion in Dogs

The summer season is in full swing, and even though the current Covid-19 pandemic has posed its fair share of problems, many dog parents are taking advantage of their home towns reopening. 

For Hawaii, the reopening means going to parks, exploring numerous hiking trails, hitting the beach, etc.

The warmer temperatures make it more inviting to have some outdoor fun, but many tend to forget that the hotter temps are not exactly the best thing for our four-legged family members.

If you are new to Hawaii, plan to visit, or just curious, the aloha state experiences summer tropical weather year-round. During the official summer time frame (June through September), Hawaii experiences even warmer temperatures with the added humidity causing it to feel like an oven outside.

The hotter humid weather causes heat exhaustion in many visitors or newbies to Hawaii, and our dogs are no different. Dogs cannot acclimate as quickly to the heat like their humans, which can lead to dangerous situations.

We’re all familiar with the potential dangers of leaving your dog locked in a car on a hot day or exposing them to too much sun. However, do you know why it’s so dangerous? Have you ever thought about what a dog may feel when heat exhaustion sets in or experiencing heat stroke?

Here are the shocking details of what your dog will go through as their body temperature begins to rise due to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

The ugly truth is that as your dog’s temperature rises, he or she will start to panting heavily. This panting is not the usual went chasing after the ball type of breathing. This form of panting is similar to running around your block ten times, without stopping, at full speed, with 60 pounds of extra weight strapped onto you. You know the kind where you can’t seem to get enough oxygen once you’ve stopped.

In addition to excessively panting, your dog could also begin to whimper or bark due to be uncomfortable because they are so hot and overheating. Dogs do not have sweat glands to help cool them off like humans. Dogs do have some sweat glands in their paws, but not enough to make a significant difference.

Your dog’s heart rate will increase the blood flow to get rid of the heat. However, this increase in heart rate will also cause your dog’s blood pressure to begin to drop. With the dropping of the blood pressure, blood volume circulation will decrease, and the natural mechanism your dog’s body has to help expel heat will start to fail.

With no way of getting rid of the heat to their body, your dog’s temperature will rise to dangerous levels. 

As your dog’s body continues to overheat, their body will begin to shut down. If your dog’s body temperature reaches above 107 degrees, their organs will start to fail because of the lack of blood and oxygen to their tissues.

Next, your dog will lose control of their muscles, their kidneys will stop functioning, the brain will suffer severe damage, the heart will stop beating, and death will happen.

Although this may sound like a slow process, let me hit you with another shocking detail, this can happen in about 15 minutes.

When your dog begins to experience heat exhaustion, time is of the essence to get them help.

Knowing what to look out for is essential and could mean the difference between saving your dog or losing them forever.

Symptoms to look out for are:

  • anxiety
  • excessive panting
  • exaggerated long tongue
  • extreme drooling
  • salivating
  • change of gum color (blueish purple, bright red, or pale)
  • increase heart rate
  • labored or trouble breathing
  • disorientation
  • stumbling
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • loss of consciousness
  • seizure
  • respiratory arrest (stop breathing)

Remember, a dog experiencing distress from heat exhaustion or heat stroke is a medical emergency. Every minute counts. Irreversible damage to organs and death can happen quickly, so be alert and pay close attention to your dog.

If you notice your dog showing any of these symptoms, stop whatever you are doing, and take immediate action to help him or her cool down.

Get your dog to a cool area like indoors with some air conditioning or in the shade with a fan pointing at them.

Place cool, wet cloths or towels on your dog’s neck, armpits, and between their hind legs to get their body temperature down. You can also wet your dog’s ears and paw pads to help cool them off.

Offer your dog cool fresh water to drink, but don’t force them to drink it. If your dog cannot drink, does not want to drink, or cannot keep the water down due to vomiting, wet your dog’s tongue with the water instead.

It’s important to note, do not give your dog ice cubes or place ice cold cloths on them. The extreme cold could cause your dog’s temperature to drop too quickly and lead to shock.

Check their body temperature if you have a thermometer handy. A dog’s average body temperature is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees. Heat exhaustion falls between 103 to 106 degrees, and body temperature above 106 is heatstroke. If your dog’s temp is in the danger zone, over 103 degrees, take them to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic or hospital.

At any given moment during this process, contact your veterinarian and let them know you are on your way and any additional information on your dog’s condition. The information you provide will help the staff prepare to take immediate action the moment you pull up.

Know that ALL DOGS are a risk for overheating; however, some breeds are higher risk. Dogs with thick coats or long hair, very young puppies or senior dogs, overweight dogs, and brachycephalic breeds (snub or short nose and flat faces): Shih Tzu, Pug, Boston Terrier, Boxers, and any of the bulldogs breeds to name a few.

If your dog is extremely active, like working or hunting breeds (Shepherds, Retrievers, Spaniels, etc.), they are more prone to experience overheating.

 It is important to remember not to push any dog too hard while playing, walking, or running when it is hot outside. Ensure your dog takes plenty of breaks in the shade and has access to cool fresh water to stay hydrated.

If all this information still doesn’t convince you to reconsider taking your dog out on a hot day, then plan accordingly and take precautions.

Take your dog out first thing in the morning before the sun hits it’s peak, and the temperatures begin to rise. Avoid going on hikes that have been deemed too dangerous for pets. Remember, if something happens, you want to get to your car as quickly as possible, not trying to figure out how you’re going to get back down the trail or hillside.

Consider taking a backpack with emergency supplies like a Hydroflask with cool fresh water, some small cloths, a themometer, a towel, a small portable fan, a dog bowl, and an umbrella (to provide shade if needed).

There are backpacks on the market today, like K9 Sportsack, in which you can carry your small dog if the heat gets to be too much for them. Also, there are cooling vests, like from Bark Industry, your dog can wear to help combat the heat.

Of course, your dog’s best option is to stay home where they are safe, comfortable, and, most importantly, out of the heat. Be sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water to stay hydrated.

Remember that under no circumstances, is it ok to leave your dog locked in your car. It doesn’t matter if you park under the shade and leave the windows cracked open. The temperature inside the vehicle will rise to dangerous levels in a matter of minutes.

Leaving dogs, or any pet, locked inside a car is against the law here in the City and County of Honolulu. Officials can charge you with animal cruelty, and be forced to surrender your pets.

The life of a dog mom or dog dad is tough. As dog parents, we must practice responsible pet ownership and keep our pups safe, even if it means not taking them to the park or on that hike.

I hope this blog write up helps you make future decisions when considering taking your dog out during those hot days.

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Brands Mentioned:

K9 Sportsack: https://www.k9sportsack.com/collections/dog-carriers

Bark Industry: https://barkindustry.com/collections/cooling-vest

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