Heat Stroke in Dogs

dog lying on grass panting from heat stroke
With the welcome return of warmer weather to the Mornington Peninsula it seems that every man and his dog is now out and about, enjoying the lifestyle that is on offer. It is now timely to have a discussion about heat stroke in dogs and how to avoid it.

What is Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke is the dangerous increase in body temperature.  It occurs when the body’s ability to reduce heat is overwhelmed by the mechanisms that produce heat. Dogs do not perspire like humans do.  Perspiration takes advantage of the cooling effect of fluid evaporating from the surface of the skin. This mechanism would have little benefit through the thick coat of many dogs.  Instead, dogs pant.  Panting moves huge volumes of air up and down their trachea.  This provides the mechanism of evaporation across the mucus membranes of the trachea. If the production of heat is greater than what can be reduced by panting, the dog’s body temperature can increase.  Sometimes to dangerous levels. Once it reaches a certain point, it can result in seizures, organ damage, coma and death.

When Does Panting Fail?

The following scenarios often cause heat stroke:

  1. The ball-mad dog. These dogs, often Border Collies, will literally chase the ball on a hot day to the point of exhaustion, ignoring their body’s discomfort from being hot.
  2. Heavy set or overweight dogs. These dogs have more body mass, producing heat that needs to be reduced by the same sized windpipe. These dogs, often Labrador Retrievers, struggle more in the heat and would benefit from weight loss prior to Summer.
  3. Brachycephalic dogs. All dogs that have been bred to have that squashed-in nose and high forehead (pugs, bulldogs, boxers) have the unfortunate complication that their windpipe is just too small for their body mass. As well, the back of their throat is often overcrowded with long soft palates and structures called saccules in their larynx that can obstruct the movement of air up and down their trachea. All short nosed dogs struggle in hot weather.
  4. Geriatric Dogs. As well as often being overweight, older dogs of the larger breeds can often suffer from paralysis of the larynx which means the top opening of the windpipe can not open wide enough to let a large amount of air in. This restricts the amount of heat that can be lost due to panting.

How To Reduce The Risk Of Heat Stroke

We dog lovers and owners need to take the responsibility for our dog’s health and the simplest step is to never exercise your dog during the heat in the middle of the day. Go for walks in the early morning or evening when the outside temperature is lower. And perhaps reduce the amount of running or ball throwing that you do on hot days. Make sure your dog is a healthy, lean body weight and know if your dog is at risk from a narrowed or obstructed airway from breed type or age.

Come and talk to Dr Kelly and the nurses at Bentons Road Vet Clinic about the risk that your dog faces.  We can teach you some tips to help your dog enjoy the Summer as much as you do.

Bentons Road Vet combining Natural Health & Modern Medicine