Heatstroke treatment and prevention in dogs

Summer in Aotearoa is a great time for your pup to get out and about in the sun, but it's important to keep their safety top of mind in the hot weather. Just like us, our four-legged whānau members can feel the heat too - to the point of experiencing heatstroke or hypthermia.

Heatstroke can be a very serious condition that may be fatal if not treated promptly. This guide is here to help you understand how to prevent heatstroke in dogs during our scorching Kiwi summers. Let's ensure your pooch can enjoy the sunshine without the worry.

What is hyperthermia or heatstroke?

Hyperthermia, otherwise known as heatstroke, is a dangerous condition in which your pet’s body temperature rises above normal levels. The normal temperature of dogs and cats ranges from 37.5° to 39°C. Hyperthermia occurs when the body temperature rises beyond that range.

As Dr Holland tells us, “Hyperthermia is best prevented by avoiding risk factors. On hot days don’t exercise dogs during the hottest part of the day, make sure animals always have access to adequate shade and fresh water, and do not leave animals confined in cars or other places with poor ventilation.”

The impact of heatstroke on dogs in the short and long-term

If your pooch experiences heatstroke, it's important to act quickly as the mortality rate of dogs suffering from Heat Related Illness (HRI) was found to be as high as 23%. Immediate action can save their life and reduce the risk of long-term damage. When a dog’s body temperature rises too high, there can be serious impacts on their health – both in the short and long term.

In the short term, it can cause dehydration, lethargy, vomiting and loss of consciousness. In severe cases, it can lead to seizures, coma, and organ failure. Long-term effects can include damage to a dog's kidneys, liver, and other vital organs. 

Tips and practices to prevent heatstroke in dogs

Preventing heatstroke is much easier than treating it. Though the New Zealand summer can be sweltering, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect your pooch from the heat.

  • Provide ample shade: Make sure your dog has access to shade throughout the day. If you're out and about, take a portable shade with you or seek out shady areas.
  • Hydration: Ensure your dog has access to fresh water at all times. You can also add ice cubes to their water bowl to keep it cool.
  • Never leave a dog in the car: Even on a mild day, a car can quickly become dangerous for dogs. Never leave your dog unattended in the car, even with the windows down or when parked in the shade.
  • Keep up grooming: Brush your dog regularly to remove excess fur and get long hair trimmed.
  • Know the signs: Be aware of the signs of heatstroke so that you know what to look out for if your dog is showing any symptoms.

By following these simple steps, you can make sure your canine companion stays safe and healthy this summer. However, if you do suspect that your dog is suffering from heatstroke, it's important to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Recognising the warning signs: Identifying canine hyperthermia

While prevention is always best, it's important to be able to recognise the signs of heatstroke in case your dog does experience any symptoms. Discomfort from high temperature may begin with seemingly harmless symptoms such as panting and drooling, but as heatstroke progresses into something more serious, Dr Holland has outlined the following signs to look out for:

  • Shade seeking
  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Coughing or vomiting
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Bright red gums
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Weakness or collapse

If your pet is showing any of these signs, move them to a cooler area immediately and seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. It's important that you act quickly.

As a pet owner, it's also critical for you to know if your dog is considered higher risk for heatstroke. Higher-risk breeds include short-nosed dogs (such as pugs or bulldogs), long-haired dogs, overweight dogs and elderly animals; however, any dog can still suffer from the effects of extreme temperatures so it's important to keep a close eye on all your pets during hot weather.

Take extra measures in summer!

As a responsible pet owner, your pet's health and well-being are a top priority, especially during the scorching summer months. By being vigilant, taking preventive measures, and acting promptly when signs of heatstroke are observed, you can ensure your furry mates navigate the summer safely.