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— June 11, 2013 —

Summer Heat Precautions
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

I have only once seen a dog suffer from serious heat related injury. It was a terrible thing to witness and I hope I never see it again.

Sarge was an American Bulldog, about three years old. His owner was playing tug with him outside in the spring. The weather was beautiful, about 75 degrees, sunny and mild. Sarge loved tug, he really got into it. After a couple of minutes, he walked off and went to lie in the shade. This was recognized as a sign of him getting hot, but no one realized how severely hot he was. Sarge was taken into air condition, but he kept getting hotter. He started to have trouble breathing, which is how dogs cool themselves. Because he could not breath properly, he became hypoxic (not enough oxygen in his blood) and his mucus membranes turned blue. He was staggering and unable to stand. The owners tried everything, removing all his collars and immersing him into a luke warm bath. As soon as he was able to walk, he was taken to emergency vet. Since he had suffered such a lack of oxygen, Sarge’s brain had become damaged and he had become a franticly fearful, aggressive dog. He was no longer himself. The vets also thought that with the signs of severe heat injury that Sarge showed, he would ultimately succumb to massive organ failure within the next few hours. Sarge had to be euthanized.

I use this story to illustrate just how dangerous heat can be to dogs. This time of year, we need to be very aware of how our dogs are dealing with heat. There are many signs of over heating and Sarge didn’t actually display any of the classic signs. Knowing his usual behavior, this behavioral change was the only warning sign. Unfortunately it came too late. The vets surmised that Sarge likely had an underlying condition that we didn’t know about. This could have contributed to his severe reaction, or that he had experienced heatstroke in the past. This would also make him more likely to suffer severe heat injuries.

As we start taking our dogs for those summer excursions, we need to remember the following signs of overheating:
  1. Excessive drooling, often the saliva will have a pasty, thick quality to it or may be frothy.

  2. Heavy panting, especially if you hear the dog having trouble inhaling. If a dog can’t exchange air properly, it can’t cool itself.

  3. The gums and conjunctiva around the eyes can turn dark red. If these tissues turn blue, as in the case of Sarge, there is a severe oxygenation issue.

  4. Confusion or a vacant stare. May also be combined with trouble standing or walking.

  5. Shaking or seizures.

  6. Petechiae (pa-TE-ke-a). This is a condition where tiny blood vessels burst open in the mucus membranes. It looks like the dog was stuck with needles and you will see multiple tiny red pin-pricks. This may be subtle or obvious. A vet may be able to point this out.
A heat injury should be treated as an IMMEDIATELY LIFE THREATENING situation! Even with effective first aid, you will still need to get your dog to a vet as quickly as possible.

First Aid for heat injuries center around cooling the dogs CORE body temperature. I emphasize the core, because you do not want to cool his outer body temperature first. If the dog is placed in very cold water, this can throw him into shock. The best thing to do is to move the dog into a kiddy pool of room temperature water and offer cool drinking water. Wetting his feet, chest and belly will draw heat out fastest and safest. Again, use room temperature water. Do not ice the water. If you don’t have a kiddy pool available, wet towels around the dog’s trunk, changed often, can help draw heat out. In any case, get the dog into shade and use a fan to circulate the air.

Even if your dog seems fine after a while, you will need to take him to a vet. The real damage of heat injuries can take a while to show themselves. Your dog may need support for organ damage/failure throughout the next 24–48 hours.

Lastly, any dog that has had a heat injury is much more likely to have another one. If your dog has survived heat stroke, you will have to be even more careful in the future.

In Sarge’s case, everything was done correctly. He was supervised the whole time, first aid measures were implemented immediately and he was taken to a vet. Despite all of this, the outcome was still bad. Please be aware of how serious heat injuries can be. Every year dogs die from being left in the car or from owners not recognizing he signs of heat injury. When it comes to an overheated dog remember, “If you’re going to make a mistake—be too careful.”