Heatstroke and dehydration in dogs

Eventhough the weather in Hong Kong has been slowly cooling down in the last month or so, dog owners still need to pay attention to the dangers of heatstroke and dehydration in their pet dogs.

Dogs do not perspire the way humans do; in fact, the only sweat glands that they have are on the pads of their feet. Dogs pant to cool themselves and also use a temperature exchange called convection to cool their skin. Both panting and convection cool the body by exchanging the warm body temperatures for the cooler air outside. If the surrounding air is not considerably cooler than the animals’ body temperature, the cooling system will not work and heatstroke can occur.

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Dogs that have a higher risk of heatstroke:

  1. Dogs with flat faces and short noses, also known as brachycephalic, like Pugs, Boston Terriers, Pekinese, Boxers, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus – these breeds don’t pant as efficiently as breeds with longer noses
  2. Older dogs
  3. Puppies
  4. Sick dogs and those with chronic health conditions like heart disease
  5. Dogs not acclimated to warm weather
  6. Any healthy dog left outside in hot weather
  7. Dogs that are over-exercised or are allowed to overexert themselves in the heat

 

So if you have flown your beloved dog over to Hong Kong from a cooler climate, as in Mylo’s case, pay close attention to the symptoms and dangers of heatstroke.

 

Symptoms of overheating include:

  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Glazed eyes
  • Vomiting and bloody diarrhea
  • Bright or dark red tongue, gums
  • Staggering
  • Elevated body temperature (104ºF and up)
  • Weakness, collapse
  • Increased pulse and heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Excessive drooling
  • Unconsciousness

Heat stroke begins with heavy panting and difficulty breathing. The tongue and mucous membranes appear bright red. The saliva is thick and tenacious, and the dog often vomits. The rectal temperature rises to 104° to 110°F (40° to 43.3°C). The dog becomes progressively unsteady and passes bloody diarrhea. As shock sets in, the lips and mucous membranes turn gray. Collapse, seizures, coma, and death rapidly ensue.

 

What to do if your dog is overheating:

  • Move him immediately to a cool area – either into the shade or preferably into air conditioning.
  • Assess his condition – is he able to stand? Is he conscious and panting? If so, offer him small amounts of water to drink and take his temperature if possible.
  • If he’s at 104ºF or lower, remain with him in a cool environment, watch him carefully and keep offering small drinks of water. A large volume of water all at once might cause him to vomit, which will add to the risk of dehydration.
  • When he seems more comfortable, call your veterinarian for next steps. The doctor may want to evaluate your dog even if he seems fully recovered.
  • If your pet is unable to stand on her own, is unresponsive to your voice, touch or the sight of you, or is having seizures, check for breathing and a heartbeat.
  • At the same time, have someone contact a veterinary hospital (or make the call yourself if you’re alone with your pet) to let them know you’ll be bringing her in right away. It’s important to alert the clinic you’re on the way so they can prepare for your arrival.
  • Begin cooling procedures by soaking her body with cool water – cool, but not cold. Use a hose, wet towels or any other source of cool water that is handy. Take her temperature if possible.
  • Concentrate the cooling water on her head, neck and in the areas underneath her front and back legs. Carefully cool her tongue if possible, but don’t let water run into her throat as it could get into her lungs. Never put water in a dog’s mouth that can’t swallow on its own. Put a fan on her if possible – it will speed up the cooling process.
  • After a few minutes, re-check her temperature. If her temp is at or below 104 degrees, stop the cooling process. Further cooling could lead to blood clotting or a too-low body temperature. Get her to a veterinary clinic right away, even if she seems to be recovering.

 

Following an episode of heat stroke, take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Heat stroke can be associated with laryngeal edema. This seriously worsens the breathing problem and may require an emergency tracheostomy. An injection of cortisone before the onset of respiratory distress may prevent this problem.

Other consequences of hyperthermia include kidney failure, spontaneous bleeding, irregular heartbeat, and seizures. These complications can occur hours or days later.

 

How can heatstroke be prevented?

  • Keep pets with predisposing conditions like heart disease, obesity, older age, or breathing problems cool and in the shade. Even normal activity for these pets can be harmful.
  • Provide access to water at all times.
  • Do not leave your pet in a hot parked car even if you’re in the shade or will only be gone a short time. The temperature inside a parked car can quickly reach up to 140 degrees.
  • Make sure outside dogs have access to shade.
  • On a hot day, restrict exercise and don’t take your dog jogging with you. Too much exercise when the weather is very hot can be dangerous.
  • Do not muzzle your dog.
  • Avoid places like the beach and especially concrete or asphalt areas where heat is reflected and there is no access to shade.
  • Wetting down your dog with cool water or allowing him to swim can help maintain a normal body temperature.
  • Move your dog to a cool area of the house. Air conditioning is one of the best ways to keep a dog cool, but is not always dependable. To provide a cooler environment, freeze water in soda bottles, or place ice and a small amount of water in several resealable food storage bags, then wrap them in a towel or tube sock. Place them on the floor for your pet to lay on.

 

Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when a dog loses body fluids faster than he can replace them. Dehydration usually involves the loss of both water and electrolytes. In dogs, the most common causes of dehydration are severe vomiting and diarrhea. Dehydration can also be caused by inadequate fluid intake, often associated with fever and severe illness. A rapid loss of fluids also occurs with heat stroke.

A prominent sign of dehydration is loss of skin elasticity. When the skin along the back is pulled up, it should spring back into place. In a dehydrated animal, the skin stays up in a ridge.

Another sign of dehydration is dryness of the mouth. The gums, which should be wet and glistening, become dry and tacky. The saliva is thick and tenacious. In an advanced case, the eyes are sunken and the dog exhibits signs of shock, including collapse.

Treatment: A dog who is visibly dehydrated should receive immediate veterinary attention, including intravenous fluids, to replace fluids and prevent further loss.

For mild dehydration, if the dog is not vomiting you can give him an electrolyte solution by bottle or syringe into the cheek pouch. Balanced electrolyte solutions for treating dehydration in children, such as Ringer’s lactate with 5 percent dextrose in water or Pedialyte solution, are available at drugstores and are also suitable for dogs. Gatorade is another short-term substitute to help replace fluids. Administer the solution at a rate of 2 to 4 ml per pound (1 to 2 ml per kilo) of body weight per hour, depending on the severity of the dehydration (or as directed by your veterinarian).

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