Heat Exhaustion

It is important to make sure that your pet stays hydrated, so bringing along water is a good idea. To allow access to cold water it can be helpful to freeze water in a bottle and to give it in small amounts as it melts. This works pretty well using the plastic bottles that water comes in except that it often deforms them enough that they won’t stand up on their own, making it necessary to keep them in some kind of holder or to replace the top carefully with each use.

Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy panting, hyperventilation (deep breathing), increased salivation early then dry gums as the heat prostration progresses, weakness, confusion or inattention, vomiting or diarrhea and sometimes bleeding. As the condition progresses towards heat prostration or heat stroke there may be obvious paleness or graying to the gums (I realize this sign won’t work for you but you might keep it in mind to ask someone about, just in case), swallowing of the breathing efforts and eventually slowed or absent breathing efforts, vomiting and diarrhea that may be bloody and finally seizures or coma. Temperatures above 105 degrees Fahrenheit are dangerous, if you have a way of taking her temperature. Most people don’t carry around thermometers with them and the physical signs are usually enough to go by.

If you are familiar with how quickly and deeply your pet breathes when she is comfortable and after a walk on a cool day you can use that information to judge when she is breathing harder than normal on a hot day.

The best approach to heat exhaustion is to prevent it by allowing acclimation to exercise on hot days slowly, to make sure there is access to water and to retreat to air conditioned areas when signs of overheating first occur. In our practice we rarely see heat exhaustion on really hot days except for dogs who are trapped in cars, greenhouses or similar hot environments. Most dogs and people are smart enough not to overexert on those days. We see problems the first moderately hot days of the summer in active dogs who just go on being really active on these days before they have a chance to get used to the heat. We also see problems here because people assume that if a dog is in the water, which they frequently are since we are near the Chesapeake Bay and numerous tributaries to it that the dog won’t overheat.

This just isn’t true when the water temperature gets much above 75 degrees if the dog is working hard in the water. If Your pet should show signs of serious distress from the heat it is best to cool her immediately with cool or tepid water rather than really cold water. If ice packs are available they can be applied to areas where circulation is very good, such as the “armpits”, inquinal region, or neck. Blowing air over her with a fan as you cool her off with water can be helpful. As soon as she seems to be gaining some comfort proceed to your vet’s. Dogs who suffer from heat stroke can develop delayed complications that are really serious, including death, if they are not properly monitored and cared for.