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Heat stroke and your dog: How hot is too hot?

Vancouver vets share signs of heat stroke in dogs, and how to spot the difference between being hot, and being overheated.

As Environment Canada issues another heat wave warning for Metro Vancouver this week, and with 7 straight days of sunshine and high temperatures forecasted for the city, it’s more important than ever to watch your dog for signs of heat distress.

Heat stroke can come on quickly when exposure to high heat and dehydration cause the body’s temperature control system to fail, and can lead to organ damage and even be fatal if not caught in time. As hot weather continues in the Lower Mainland, the BC SPCA shared last week that they have received more than 600 rescue callouts for pets left in sweltering cars already this summer, along with a warning of how situations can quickly turn serious when pups overheat.

But don’t be alarmed—just be careful. With common sense and a few signs to watch for, you can protect your dog from unnecessary heat overload.

Signs your dog might have heat stroke

In high temperatures, we humans have countless sweat glands all over our bodies to cool our skin down. But dogs don’t have that luxury, having way fewer glands to sweat from.

Canines cool themselves primarily through panting with their tongues and sweating out their foot pads. Unfortunately, sometimes those methods aren’t enough to maintain a safe body temperature.

“The signs of heatstroke in your dog are excessive panting and paw sweating,” Dr. Zoran Radnic of Kingsway Veterinary Clinic told OhMyDog!. “Heavy abdominal breathing and lying down a lot are very big concerns too.”

Other signs of heat stroke in your pup are an increased heart rate, vomiting, and dribbling from the mouth.

And if your dog is not only less chipper than usual, but downright lethargic—even collapsing at times—it’s time to call your vet.

Preventing doggy heatstroke

If your pet is older, overweight, or a short-nosed breed (like bulldogs, pugs, and boxers), they are more susceptible to heat danger. However, in high temperatures, every dog can overheat quickly.

Some measures are no-brainers, but are still worth reminding ourselves to maintain.

Keep your dog in cool areas, walk them at shadier times (off the hot pavement), take them swimming, never keep them in a car, and constantly refresh their water dish. Ice cubes in water are easy cooling tricks and can be fun for pets to chase around the bowl!

“Keep cooling your dog down,” says Dr. Radnic. “For bigger dogs you can use a hose, and for smaller dogs you can wrap them in a wet towel or put them in the bathtub.”

With bathing, Veterinarian Technician Lee Hartman of the Kingsway Clinic cautioned us to be very careful not to cover your dog with freezing water.

“We had a few cases come in last week where people put their dogs in super cold water and that can be dangerous and shocking.”

“The dog’s veins expand in the heat,” Hartman adds. “And super cold water, when the veins are like that, can cause damage.”

So just remember this summer, if you are uncomfortably hot, your furry friend is most likely feeling it worse. Play safe and stay cool!


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