Today’s post is in memory of a very special dog. He sadly passed away from heatstroke. A devastating loss to his person. A very sad day for everyone who knew him.
Heatstroke is a common cause of death. Just because it’s common doesn’t lessen the blow any. Heatstroke strikes animals and human alike. I guess the key is recognition (and prevention).
It’s not that dogs have fur and overheat more easily than we do. They do. It’s that they don’t have enough sweat glands to cool them on a really hot and/or humid day. We pretty much have sweat glands all over but dogs only have them where there is no fur – paws and nose then.
Dogs are also often tethered and are not masters of their own domain and cannot change their environment to ensure safety. They can’t turn on the air con, for instance. And some dogs, and breeds, seem more tolerant or hide their symptoms in general better. Every year while we lived in Hong Kong, a Goldie dies from heatstroke while on a hike.
We were always extra careful with our Goldie. We carried extra water, not for drinking, but for cooling her down. We hiked in the shade, stopped often to rest, played at the beach and in the water and she hiked with a damp towel around her neck. We checked her often for signs.
Heatstroke in some instances can easily be prevented – not leaving your dog in a car, not vigorously exercising your dogs when it’s hot and humid, not leaving your dog outside on a hot day without shade or fresh water, and not leaving your dog stuck on concrete or asphalt which can get really hot. Some breeds are more prone – think, snub-nosed dogs like pugs whose nasal passages are too small to circulate enough air to cool them off.
How to tell if a dog is having a heatstroke?
It’s not always easy to tell when it requires immediate medical attention since we don’t always carry around a thermometer to see if our dog is at 110ºF or 43.3ºC (maybe we should on hikes). The point is not to allow our dogs to even get that hot.
It’s important to know where your dog’s baseline is and observe when he/she starts to behave differently. The dog’s response to being overheated is heavy (heavier) panting and difficult breathing. The mucous membranes first get bright red (then grey when shock sets in). Try pressing on the gums and see what happens. Movement is unsteady and/or they get lethargic. They may start to vomit. It gets bad when there is shock and the dog goes into seizures or coma. The end can come rapidly after this.
It’s crucial to start cooling the dog down at the early stage. If you are outside, take the dog into air conditioning. If you are inside, put the dog in front of the air con or electric fan. Don’t throw cold water at your dog because the sudden change in temperature will constrict the vessels, decreasing oxygen.
If you are outdoors (eg hiking), find shade, wet a towel with water and place around the neck. If possible, find a water source and let the dog stand in it. Make sure it’s not too cold.
You dog may want to drink. A little is ok but don’t let him/her guzzle it down.
Just remember a dog can be overcooled.
Even if your dog appears “normal”, take him/her to the vet to ensure everything is okay.
With heatstroke, prevention is the key.
I’m not sure what the whole story is with this lovely dog who has passed on. It’s not the time (is it ever?) to ask for details. No one really wants to rehash what happened, even if the series of events is going around and around in their head.
No matter what happened, hopefully the fact that he triggered this post will save some other dogs.