By Dr John Rand, D.V.M.
Dogs pant for many reasons; fear, anxiety, pain, various drugs, heart, lung, or central nervous system disease, and for the purpose of this paper, to keep cool. Dogs’ main means to dissipate excess heat is via evaporative cooling from the respiratory tract through panting. Panting increases air flow over moist surfaces. The increased airflow speeds evaporation and cools the dog. Sometimes, though, panting is not enough.
In this part of the country at this time of year, we may inadvertently put our pets in situations that can quickly turn deadly. Rising temperatures and an everpresent, high humidity makes losing enough heat very difficult for animals. Compound that with a lack of shade or wind and also with the fact that most of today’s pets are overweight. A dog left outside in the direct sunlight, or worse, a closed car or truck, is in serious risk of heat stroke. Brachycephalic breeds (smooshed in face) likes pugs, shih tzus, Boston terriers, etc., that can barely breathe as it is, can suffer from heat stroke even easier.
The signs are subtle, but significant:
Dark red tongue and gums
Fast heart rate
A dog’s body temperature can quickly and easily climb over 106 degrees. At these temperatures, nearly every organ of each body system is affected. Blood cells and vessels melt, causing internal bleeding, clotting abnormalities, and low blood pressure. Intestinal cells leak and bacteria enter the bloodstream. The brain and nerves swell, leading to disorientation, seizures, and coma. The heart begins beating irregularly and blood flow decreases. Kidney and liver cells die, leading to organ failure. If it sounds scary, it is.
Always provide shade, moving air, cool water to drink, and room temperature water to mist. When in doubt, get your pet to a veterinarian immediately. Depending on the severity of damage, you may expect around two days of hospitalization, with complications occurring up to one week out.
Heat stroke often carries with it a poor to grave prognosis as well as a hefty hospital bill. As with so many medical conditions, prevention is key.
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