Heatstroke in dogs: symptoms and treatment
Dogs and cats are much more sensitive to heat than people, although it is our canine friends who are at greatest risk of heatstroke, because they do not have sweat glands to reduce the heat by sweating. They can only do so by panting, through the pads of their paws and the parts of the body that have less hair, like the belly.
Cats, on the other hand, do sweat, although they do not do it all over their skin. They relieve the heat through the few sweat glands they have, located underneath the chin, in the lips, anus, and between the pads of their paws.
Temperature and time, a lethal cocktail
A dog’s body temperature fluctuates between 38-39ºC, while cats can survive temperatures above 50ºC without their lives being at risk.
The dangerous thing about heat stroke or hyperthermia is that it can destroy cats’ and dogs’ sugar and salt reserves, causing a collapse of their internal organs that can finish their life in a very short time. To give you an idea, the rise in temperature inside a car on a day with high heat and humidity can be 0.7°C per minute, i.e., more than 10°C in a quarter of an hour.
FACTORS THAT ADD A HIGHER RISK:
The breed of animal:
• Flat-nosed breeds such as the Bulldog, Pug, Persian Cats, Boxers or Pekinese dogs are at greater risk, because they have more difficulty breathing
• Animals with denser fur, such as the Siberian Husky, Bobtail, Samoyed or Chow-Chow.
• The age of the animal: the youngest and oldest are most at risk, as well as animals that are ill.
• Elevated temperature and humidity.
• Not having enough fresh water, or shade.
• Exposure time: if they are in an enclosed space or lack ventilation, such as the interior of a car, a balcony, a closed room or a transporter cage.
• Obesity: because their skin insulates more.
• Hair colour: dark hair absorbs more heat.
SYMPTOMS OF HEATSTROKE
• Apathy, not wanting to move.
• Dizziness, breathing with difficulty, gasping.
• Alteration in the colour of their gums or bluish skin due to lack of oxygenation of the blood.
• Muscle tremors and even vomiting and/or diarrhoea
• The animal is staggering or losing balance.
The temperature increase inside a car on a hot, humid day can be as muchas 0,7ºC per minute.
HOW TO ACT IF YOUR PET HAS HEATSTROKE
• Speed is of the essence, to save the life of your pet.
• The animal’s body heat must be lowered as quickly as possible to cool the blood that goes to the brain, avoiding possible brain damage, and to reduce the speed of their breathing:
• Put the pet in a cool place.
• Wet it with 'cool' water (never freezing because you could cause brain damage) until you regulate its breathing and then rub ice cubes around its nose, the sides of its neck, armpits, groin and abdomen.
• Never cover it with wet towels because the heat will be trapped instead of escaping.
• In order for the cold to take effect more quickly, you can use a fan.
• Give a little water to drink, in sips.
•Take it to the vet when it has stabilised, for a thorough examination.
AVOIDING HEAT STROKE
• Do not take your dog for a walk at peak times (from 12 noon to 4 p.m.)
• Feed your pet early in the morning, or late in the day.
• Clean, fresh water is essential. A dog can survive without food, but if it loses more than 12% of the water in its body, it can die.
• Air conditioning is also suitable for dogs.
• If you are taking it anywhere by car, take ice, a couple of towels and water. Whenever you stop, wet the towel well and let the dog lie on top or put his legs on it (for the pads). You can rub the pads with an ice cube, and the bridge of the nose.