Integrative Pet Vet column: Heat exhaustion in dogs
Integrative Pet Vet
The ongoing heat coupled with the wildfire smoke has created challenges for our pets and us. At one point on Monday, Glenwood Springs was at 95 degrees and reportedly felt like 103 degrees. Outside temperatures are hot, and unless you have air conditioning, inside temperatures are also hot. Cooling homes during the night can be difficult with high evening temperatures and the presence of smoke making it a difficult choice to leave windows open during the night. Cars can heat rapidly. Even on a mild day in the 70s, temperatures inside a car can reach dangerous temperatures of 120 degrees in 30 minutes or less.
Over time, normal responses to heat include reduced activity, lowered appetite and increased water consumption. These can also be signs of illness, so it is important to monitor your pet and contact your veterinarian if there are other indications of illness or if the problem continues. Individual susceptibility to heat varies with factors like age, health status, acclimation to heat, environmental conditions and activity levels. Obese dogs and those with heart conditions can have increased difficulty with heat. Some breeds of dogs are more prone to heat problems. Dogs like the Alaskan malamute with heavy coats tend to be less tolerant of heat than a short-coated breed like the German shorthaired pointer. Brachycephalic dogs (think of pugs, Boston terriers, boxers and other breeds with the short faces) can be severely affected by heat because they are unable to move air well while panting. Panting is a major way of cooling for dogs. Dogs sweat only through their feet, and cooling by sweating is minimal.
Avoiding heat exhaustion follows basic safety practices. Limit exercise or outdoor activities on excessively hot days. Especially avoid going out during the hottest part of the day. Provide plenty of drinking water. Seek areas with lots of shade. Swimming, wading or playing in a sprinkler, depending on what works best for your dog, can be helpful for cooling. A cooling pad may be beneficial. Some heavy-coated dogs benefit from having their coat trimmed shorter during the summer. Keep in mind that sunburn is a risk if the coat is trimmed too short. Don’t walk on the hot pavement or concrete because burns to the feet can occur. When engaged in activities, monitor your dog and take frequent rest breaks.
Indications that your dog is getting too hot include panting, drooling, reddened gums, rapid heart rate, stumbling gait and changes in mental status. As the heat increases vomiting and bloody diarrhea can occur along with collapse, seizures and breathing distress. These signs occur because too much heat damages the proteins and cells in the body potentially leading to shock and kidney, liver, stomach, intestine and heart damage.
Rapid response to the overheating is important. Depending on the dog’s condition including core body temperature, acclimation and overall health status and the severity of the clinical signs of overheating, aggressive therapy may be necessary. Heat exhaustion can be difficult to treat. Early intervention has been shown to increase the success of treatment. Basic approaches include cooling the abdomen and feet with cool water from a hose. Don’t cover your dog with a wet towel because this can impair heat loss from the body. Avoid too rapid of cooling because this can create other problems. Medical therapy may include IV fluids to restore hydration and treat shock, water and fans to cool the core temperature, and monitoring for blood coagulation problems.
Heat exhaustion is a serious problem that is easier to prevent than to treat. During these hot months, monitor your dog carefully during activities, time the activities for the coolest parts of the morning or evening, provide plenty of water, take frequent rests, stay in the shade as much as possible, and never leave your dog confined in a car.
If you think your dog is showing signs of heat exhaustion, contact your veterinarian immediately and then start the initial cooling process as instructed by your veterinarian.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.