The Heat is On

Don’t Let the Dog Days of Summer Ruin Your Pup’s Fun

Roaring Fork Lifestyle: What is heat stroke, and how does it manifest in a dog’s body?

Dr. Ben: “The basic gist is that as the body becomes overheated, the body will move blood away from the core so that the organs don’t overheat. Organs start shutting down; the dog can go into acute kidney failure and/or acute liver failure. Then sometimes you begin to see manifestations of skin death and necrosis, and in the worst cases it turns into multi-system failure and death. It’s a horrible condition and wildly difficult to treat, but it’s not uncommon. It can all happen really quickly, taking over the body within an hour or more, so it’s really important for owners to focus on prevention more than anything.”

What situations commonly cause the condition?

Dr. Ben: “Generally what happens is that people don’t have this condition on their radar, and they’ll head out to hike in the middle of the day when it’s just too hot for some dogs. Leaving a dog in the car is another classic mistake, but heat stroke can also happen in a back yard with no shade or access to enough water. It also happens with dogs and people who are visiting our area and going outdoors, because they don’t register the risk here at altitude. It’s just so dry in many places and a lot of trails don’t have great water sources. It’s always good advice to help your out-of-town visitors understand the risks.”

What are the key signs to watch for?

Dr. Ben: “Unfortunately the signs are subtle and deceiving at first because they’re exactly what you’d expect after exercising your dog: he’s totally exhausted, panting, and thirsty. But as things progress, the dog might collapse and not be able to move. If you were to check his rectal temperature you’d find it’s massively elevated. (Normal temperature for a dog should be 100.0 to 101.9.) Or the dog might begin drinking water excessively. The progression to a life-threatening situation can be rapid depending on the level of exposure. Sadly, by the time some owners notice something is really wrong, it might be too late at that point. So again it’s crucial to always plan your outdoor activities with prevention in mind. You will want to do everything you can to make sure your dog never even reaches this point.”

Are certain dogs more susceptible than others?

Dr. Ben: “Yes, most commonly this is going to show up in large breed dogs, those with thicker fur or long hair, and darker-colored dogs. Dogs with underlying health conditions like respiratory or heart issues are more at risk, or hormonal disease or arthritis that comes with old age. Panting is their way of releasing heat, so if a dog can’t keep up with the rising heat in its body and cool itself quickly enough, it can definitely be more prone to heat stroke.”

What should an owner do if their dog is overheating?

Dr. Ben: “If you’re even a little suspicious that something is wrong, call your vet and get in immediately. As a vet, I’d always rather have a false alarm—so don’t worry that you’re overreacting, because taking action quickly could save your dog’s life. If you’re concerned, it’s better to check. As you’re transporting your dog to the vet, offer water to drink and try to wet them down if you can. Turn up the air conditioner in the car. Do everything you can to cool them down while you’re on your way in. From there, we would start on IV fluids at high rates and assess how much damage has occurred.”

How can owners plan outdoor excursions to minimize heat stroke risk?

Dr. Ben: “It’s mostly about knowing your pet: knowing the breed, and knowing the physical capabilities and limitations. In general, plan your hikes for the cooler morning hours this time of year. If you’re out longer, make sure the trail you choose has mid-day shade with a consistent water source for drinking or wading. When it comes to camping trips, especially to the desert, plan to go during the shoulder months or have some way for your dog to cool down whenever it needs to. Don’t turn dogs into weekend warriors—they can’t tell you when they’re in trouble, so it’s up to you to look out for them.”

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