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Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

It was Memorial Weekend of 2018. I was camping with my family and friends along the St. Claire River. It was HOT!! The temps were suddenly in the high 80’s, and heat index was well into the high 90’s. It was late morning, and I had just gotten done taking a long hike with Charlie. I had gotten Charlie wet before we took off for our walk, and I made sure to pack extra water for him to drink while we were out. Inside Charlie’s back pack was water for both of us and his water bowl. When we got back to our campsite, I made sure to give him fresh water, and I worked on wetting him down again. My husband left to run an errand with my son, and my daughter stayed with me. A woman rushed into our campsite, ran up to me, and asked if I could help them with their dog. I stood there for a few seconds trying to figure out how to respond. What help was she looking for, and why is she asking me?

She had noticed me throughout the weekend working with Charlie and decided I was a person who knew a thing or two about dogs. Her campsite was just 2 sites down from ours and her dog had collapsed and was shaking all over. I quickly put Charlie in his crate; my daughter and I followed them back to their campsite. The dog in question was a Golden Retriever and was having a seizure. After a couple of quick questions about what the dog had been doing so far during the day, I thought it might be heat stroke. I asked the people standing around to get me some sugar and for water to wet the dog down with. My daughter and I started right away at wetting down his chest and belly. As soon as the sugar came, I put it on his tongue and held his mouth shut. He almost immediately opened his eyes, and stopped his seizure. Within minutes he was up walking around, and seemed to have made a full recovery. I made sure the family knew they should take their dog into an emergency vet; however, I didn’t follow up with them to find out if they did or not.

It’s now summer of 2019 and the temperatures are high once again. If, like me, you like to spend a lot of time outside with your favorite sidekick, you run the risk of your dog getting too hot. Dogs don’t really sweat. They do have some sweat glands in their feet, but these are very ineffective to preventing them from getting too hot. Mostly dogs cool off by panting, but for this to be effective, they need LOTS of water, especially in these high temperatures.

Heat Stroke and Exhaustion are easy to prevent:

  1. Plan Ahead! Make sure when you’re planning activities outside you are avoiding the peak temperature hours. Try to plan your activity during the morning or evening. If that’s not possible, take shorter walks, and take breaks in the shade. Take water along with you. If you can’t carry a backpack there are some really great dog backpacks out there that allow your dog to carry water for themselves and you. If you have to walk on hot surfaces, consider getting dog hiking boots. I’ll have a few links at the end of this post of the products I recommend. Also plan ahead when going on vacation. If you need to go on vacation, make sure you have a well trusted dog sitter, or use a boarding kennel to make sure your dog is getting what they need to be safe.
  2. Hot Cars are NOT for Dogs. I love to have my dog with me. I love to take him away to walk him since all I have around my house are gravel roads to walk on. He often goes with me for drop off when the kids go to school, and he LOVES to go with me on training sessions and work with the dogs I’m helping. I’m one of guilty that often has their dog with them when they make a quick trip into the grocery store. On hot days, I plan ahead; I either don’t take him at all, or I make sure I don’t need to stop anywhere.
  3. Water!! Dogs need water to be hydrated, and they need to be hydrated to stay safe. Dogs need about 1 ounce of water per pound to by hydrated in normal temperatures. In the hot days of summer, if your dog is very active, a breed with a flat muzzle, or elderly, you should plan on doubling that number. Wet your dog down before a walk if the temperatures are going to be high.
  4. Know Your Dog and Breed History. Dogs with flatter muzzles (pug, French bulldog, etc.), elderly dogs, obese dogs, dogs with a heart or respiratory condition, dogs with a heavy coat, and dogs acclimated to air-conditioning are highly prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

If you have done all you can, and you’re afraid your dog might be getting too hot, this is what to look for:

  1. Mouth: Long discolored and wide tongue, excessive drooling, dry nose and tongue, sticky gums.
  2. Eyes: Glassy, dilated, maybe a fearful expression.
  3. Lungs: excessive panting, difficulty breathing.
  4. Body: Racing heart, high body temperature (over 104), staggering, diarrhea, vomiting, seizures.

If you see any of these signs here’s what you can do:

  1. Stay Calm: Your dog needs you making rational decisions. They need your focus, and they will easily get more upset if they sense your panic.
  2. Cool Off Your Dog! If possible, get your dog wet. If you cannot submerge your dog in water, and you’re limited on how much water you have, focus on the chest and abdominal area. Try to get your dog to stand in water if all you have is a shallow pool. Your dog will need cool water, not ice. Ice will only constrict the blood vessels and slow down the cooling process. Don’t force you dog to drink but provide water for them to drink. Make sure they don’t gulp it down really fast; instead provide them with only a small amount at a time, and keep replenishing it at a reasonable rate. Get them into the air-conditioning. If that’s not possible, look for a shaded spot to get them to. If they’re not able to walk or having a seizure, apply cool wet cloths on their head and feet, and a fan to blow on them.
  3. Sugar! About 17 years ago, I was a brand-new dog owner. I had my almost all black German Shepherd puppy living with me in a non-air-conditioned house. I was cooking dinner and she stumbled past me, and passed out on the floor in the kitchen. I called the local animal ER and they talked me through heat stroke first aid. They had me apply sugar on her tongue along with many of the things I’ve mentioned already. I am a researcher, and over the last month I’ve been researching several websites, blogs, and the two animal first aid books I have; none of them mention sugar. But it worked, and it worked fast! Now when I plan a hot walk or hike, I have sugar packets on hand just in case. Make sure you’re using real sugar, not a sugar substitute. Many imitation sugars like xylitol are lethal to dogs.
  4. Take Your Dog to the Vet!!

Here are a few links to some of my favorite products. Backpack from Ruffwear, backpack  and collapsible bowl from Outward Hound.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog. If you found it helpful, please share it on social media. 

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