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It’s pretty simple: if you’re feeling hot, your dog is feeling hotter. If you can’t walk outside without water, your dog can’t, either. And if it’s too hot for you to walk barefoot on the sidewalk, then neither should your dog. It’s summer in “Hotlanta,” and it’s time to cut out the mid-day walks and outdoor fetch sessions and seek shade and air conditioning for both you and your furry friends. Why? Heat stroke.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a condition that occurs when your body overheats. It typically happens as a result of prolonged exposure to, or exertion in, high temperatures. In dogs, heat stoke can occur when their internal body temperature rises to roughly 105 degrees. It’s very dangerous and can very quickly lead to organ damage, organ failure, and death. Unlike humans, dogs have limited ability to regulate their body temperature through sweating (only the pads on their feet can sweat) and they instead have to rely primarily on panting, which does no good if they are continuing to breath in hot air. And yes, heat stroke can also happen in cats.

What does heat stroke look like?

Early signs of heat stroke in dogs include heavy panting even after resting for some time, excessive drooling, bright red gums and tongue, dry gums, and a rapid heart rate. If left untreated, this can lead to muscle tremors, vomiting, lethargy, disorientation, seizures, permanent organ damage, collapse, and death.

What can I do if I suspect my dog has heat stroke?

If you suspect your dog has heat stroke, you will need to act immediately by thinking cool. Get them to a cool and shaded area, give them small amounts of cool water, and apply somewhat cool (not super cold!) water to their stomach, head, ears, and foot pads while using a fan to blow cool air over them. And again, do not use cold water! While it might be tempting in the heat of the moment to pour ice water over your dog or submerge them in cold water, this can lead to shock and ultimately make them hotter as the water gets trapped under their fur.

It is important to understand that heat stroke is a major medical issue so even after applying the principals above and stabilizing your dog, get them to the vet as quickly as possible. Dogs badly impacted by heat stroke can require intravenous fluids, medication, and possibly oxygen to prevent or address internal organ damage that you cannot see.

How do I prevent heat stroke?

Since heat stroke is typically caused by prolonged exposure to, or exertion in, high temperatures, cut down on the exposure and exertion.

• When the sun is blazing in the sky, keep your pets inside. Exercise your dogs during the cooler morning or evening hours.
• Keep mid-day and early afternoon potty breaks short and walk in the shade as much as possible.
• Carry water for both you and your pet. And remember that most dogs will not drink hot water even if they are thirsty, so don’t expect to rely on those friendly folks who might leave water dishes laying in your path in the sun.
• Provide your pet with fresh, cool water all day, every day. In the summer months, this means changing the water in their dish frequently as it heats up, especially if your dogs are outdoors.
• If your dog does spend time outside during the day, make sure they have access to good shade and cool, fresh water at all hours.
• Recognize that some dogs are more susceptible to heat stroke. These include senior dogs, overweight dogs, dogs with flat noses like Pugs, Boxers, Shih Tzus, and Bulldogs, and dogs with thick fur like Malamutes and Akitas.
• Consider specially designed dog cooling vests and bandanas. Most of these rely on evaporation to work, similar to human sweating. While there is positive anecdotal evidence of their effectiveness from pet owners, there has been limited scientific research so these should only be used with a common sense strategy that includes decreased exposure to and activity in the heat.
• It should go without saying but never, never, never leave your pet in a parked car when the outside temperature is above 70 degrees. Even for a quick in-and-out errand with the windows cracked and in the shade, this is often deadly. The only exception to this rule is if your car is on and utilizing the air conditioning.

August 23, 2023