Recognizing and Treating Dehydration and Heat Stroke in Dogs
Summer. It’s the most popular time of the year to vacation with your pets, but it can also be the most dangerous. Sunny days, hot temperatures, high humidity, and lots of time outside can lead to trouble – even when you’re trying to be careful!
Being away from your normal routine makes it more difficult to monitor whether your pet is drinking enough water or over-exerting himself. Knowing the symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke will allow you to keep an eye on your pet and act quickly if he starts to get sick.
What is Dehydration?
Dehydration occurs when a dog does not have enough water in his body. Dogs’ bodies are 90 percent water, and normal activities like panting and drooling decrease a their fluids. And just a 10 percent drop in fluid levels can result in serious dehydration.
Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs
Dogs can’t always tell you when they’re thirsty, so having fresh, cool water available to them at all times is a good idea. Still, sometimes they get busy fetching, hiking, or treeing squirrels and forget to stop for a drink. If you see these symptoms, you need to take quick action to protect your dog:
- Sunken eyes
- Too much or too little urination
- Dry, sticky gums
- Lack of skin elasticity, meaning if you pick up your dog’s skin at his neck and then release it, it should pop back into place. In dehydrated dogs, the skin will remain in a ridge and the longer it stays that way the more severe the dehydration.
When you think your dog might be dehydrated, the primary objective is to get him more fluids.
- Move him to a shady, cool location to try to reduce the panting.
- Provide him with cool water, perhaps mixing in salt-free chicken broth or Pedialyte to encourage him to drink.
If your pup is severely dehydrated, it can be a critical emergency. You need to call your veterinarian so that IV fluids can be administered.
The best way to prevent dehydration is to make sure your dog always has access to fresh, cool water. When your hiking be sure to carry plenty of water for you and your dog – or get him to carry it – and take frequent breaks to get a drink.
What Is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke occurs when your dog can no longer maintain his normal body temperature (around 101F) by panting. Humidity and heat combine to increase his temperature and at 106F his internal organs start to break down. At that point, you only have minutes to cool him or he could suffer permanent organ damage or even die.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Dogs
Often people don’t recognize the symptoms of heat stroke and lose critical treatment time. Very humid days – even if it’s not all that hot – can also be problematic, so always watch your dog for these signs:
- Excessive panting
- Pale gums and a bright red tongue
- Anxious or staring expression
- Disorientation and confusion
- Increased heart rate and pulse
- Thick saliva
- Difficulty breathing
Treatment for Heat Stroke
Time is of the essence if your dog is experiencing heat stoke. Don’t panic and follow these steps:
- Move your dog into the shade and provide him with some water, but don’t allow him to drink to the point of vomiting.
- Put him in a bath, pour, or gently hose cool water on him. Ice packs shouldn’t be used because you can over-cool him.
- Massage him gently and flex his legs to encourage circulation.
- Move him to a place with air conditioning or put him in front of a fan. Air flow will help him to cool himself.
- Monitor his temperature with a rectal thermometer and contact the nearest emergency veterinarian.
- When your dog recovers from the heat stroke, schedule a thorough examination with your veterinarian to rule out organ damage.
Factors Increasing Chances of Heat Stroke
Something as unique as your dog’s temperament can elevate his body temperature. For example, a pet that is anxious, excited or frightened, or one that barks excessively, is more likely to get heat stroke than one that is calm or quiet. Also, dogs with short noses, like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Shar-Pei are more likely to have heat-related problems, because they have less tongue area to dissipate heat. Other factors that can play a part in heat stoke are:
- Direct sunshine
- High humidity
- Lack of a breeze
- Health and weight of the pet
- Thickness of the dog’s coat
- Availability of fresh water
- Recent feeding
Preventing Heat Stroke
Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – so here are some ways to avoid heat stoke:
- Do not leave your pet alone in the car
- Minimize outdoor activities on hot and humid days
- Exercise in the early morning and late evening when the temperatures are cooler
- Keep your dog in a cool part of the house, like the basement or a room that is air conditioned
- Make sure your pets always have access to clean drinking water
- When your dog is outside be sure he has shade, gets a breeze, and consider a kiddie pool for him to cool off in
It’s disappointing to have your plans thwarted by the weather – but no activity is worth risking your pet’s health. Ty’s advice is to find yourself a nice fan and enjoy an nap on days when it’s too warm to safely play outside.