Things Every Dog Parent Needs to Know Today About Heat Exhaustion

The summer season is in full swing and the warmer temps make it more inviting to have some outdoor fun like going to parks, hitting the beach, exploring hiking trails and more.

Although it’s great to head out for some fresh air, change of scenery, and fun in the sun, especially after being stuck at home this past year. It’s important to remember that the hotter temps are not exactly the best thing for our four-legged family members.

For example, if you’re new to Hawaii, a long time resident new to dog parenthood, or plan to visit, the aloha state experiences tropical summer weather all year round. During the official summer time frame (June to September), Hawaii experiences even warmer temperatures and with the added humidity causing it to feel like an oven outside.

The hotter humid weather causes heat exhaustion in many visitors, newbies, and long time residents to Hawaii, and our dogs are no different.

Most dog parents do not realize that dogs are unable to acclimate to heat as quickly like humans, which can lead to some very dangerous situations.

Have you ever thought about what a dog goes through when experiencing heat exhaustion or suffering heat stroke? Well sit back because I’m about to break it down for you, and I’m not going to sugar coat it either.

The ugly truth is that your dog’s temperature rises (similar to getting a fever) and as they get hotter, your dog will start to pant heavily. This panting is not the typical out of breath from chasing after the ball. This panting is similar to running around the block about ten times, without stopping, at full speed, while carrying 60 pounds of extra weight on their backs.

In addition to excessively panting, your dog could also begin to whimper or bark because they are uncomfortable due to being so hot and over heating.

Next, your dog’s heart rate will increase their blood flow in attempts to get rid of the heat from their body. However, this increase in their heart rate will also cause your dog’s blood pressure to begin to drop.

As their blood pressure drops, blood volume circulation will decrease, and the natural mechanism in your dog’s body used to expel heat will start to fail. With no way of getting rid of the excess heat in their body, your dog’s temperature continues to rise to dangerous levels.

As your dog’s body continues to overheat, their body will begin to shut down. When your dog’s body temperature reaches above 107 degrees Fahrenheit, 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, their brain will suffer severe damage, their heart will stop beating, and death will occur.

This may sound like a slow process, but let me hit you with a shocking fact, this can all occur in 15 minutes.

If your dog begins to experience heat exhaustion, time is of the essence to get them medical help as soon as possible.

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

A dog experiencing distress from heat exhaustion or heat stroke is a medical emergency. EVERY MINUTE COUNTS! Irreversible damage to their organs and death can happen quickly, so be alert and pay attention to your dog at all times when out in the sun and hot weather temps.

If you notice your dog showing any of these symptoms, STOP WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING, and take immediate action to help your dog cool down before it’s too late.

First step is to get your dog to a cool area 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. If your dog cannot drink, does not want to drink, or cannot keep water down due to vomiting, wet your dog’s tongue with 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 them to go into shock.

Check your body’s temperature if you have a thermometer handy. A dog’s body temperature normally runs between 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat exhaustion sets in between 103 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit. If your dog’s temperature is in the “danger zone”, over 103 degrees, take them to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic or hospital immediately.

Contact the veterinary clinic/hospital to let them know you are on the way and information about your dog’s condition (body temp, symptoms, etc.). The information you provide will help the staff prepare and take immediate action the moment you pull up.

ALL DOGS are a risk for overheating; however, some breeds are at a higher risk. Dogs with thick coats or long hair, young puppies, senior dogs, overweight dogs, and brachycephalic breeds (short nose or flat face) like Shih Tzus, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Boxers, and any of the Bulldog breeds to name a few.

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

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

Take your dog out for a walk or play time first thing in the morning before the sun hits its peak and the temp is at its high. Avoid going on hikes that have been deemed too dangerous for pets.

Side Note: Pill Box on the Windward side of Oahu is a hike that is known to be dangerous for pets, so be very careful when taking your dog up there, especially on hotter days. If something happens, you want to be able 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 for your pup when you are out and about on a hot day, like a Hydroflask with cool fresh water, some small wash cloths, a towel, a thermometer, a small portable fan, a travel dog bowl, and an umbrella (to provide shade if needed).

It’s always better to be safe than sorry and having supplies at the ready can afford you the time to take quick action to help your dog or maybe another dog you come across.

Another great option to help cool down your pup is a cooling vest. Cooling vests act like a swamp cooler by soaking the vest in cool water, wringing the vest so it’s not soaking and dripping, and slipping it over your dog (similar to a harness). As your dog runs or walks, the breeze flows through the vest keeping your dog cool. As the vest dries, you simply repeat the process. These vests are comfortable for your pups to wear and are even suited for dogs with long hair or double coats.

A couple of vests I recommend for dog parents to look into are Bark Industry and Ruff Wear (links below). Both companies offer great vests and work like a charm. I have purchased and tried out both for my dogs and was very pleased with the results.

I hope this blog has given you a better understanding of the dangers your dog can face if experiencing heat exhaustion and consider taking all precautions to avoid any heat related medical emergencies no matter where you live.

Links to companies mentioned:

Bark Industry

Ruff Wear

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