Dogs do not have very effective thermoregulation as they cannot sweat and can only cool down by panting, so in summer, car travel and exercise should be done in the cooler parts of the day to avoid heat stroke.
Caution must be taken when dogs are in a car. Cars can heat up incredibly fast – up to 10°C higher than the environmental temperature in 10 minutes and 20°C higher in just 30 minutes, reaching 50°C on a 30°C day. Even on cooler days, the temperature of the car increases by about 5°C every hour.
Dogs pant to cool down, but excessive panting – in a hot car, or after exercise in the hottest part of the day – causes swelling of the back of the mouth, making the panting less efficient, so the body temperature rises rapidly.
A dog’s normal body temperature is 38- 39°C, and anything over 40.5°C becomes life threatening. During heat stroke, a dog’s temperature rises rapidly to 40°C and higher.
If untreated, body organs start to “cook”, resulting in kidney or liver failure, brain damage, or even death. If you notice your dog is overheating – excessive panting, wide open eyes, red or purple gums and/or tongue – wet it immediately and get it to a vet quickly. Do not use cold water/ice as this causes constriction of the skin blood vessels. Quick action reduces the chances of long-term side effects.
If symptoms are mild or you cannot get to a vet, wet your dog and use a fan to cool it. Keep wetting it until panting has stopped and body temperature has returned to normal. You should provide cool drinking water but not force water into the mouth. If you know how to use a rectal thermometer, check the temperature to ensure it is returning to normal. Monitor your pet for the rest of the day, and if it is unstable, has blue/purple gums, salivates excessively or seems unwell in any way, visit a vet as soon as possible.
Depending on the severity of the heat stroke, your vet may do blood tests and place the dog on a drip. Vets have a number of ways to reduce a dog’s body temperature that you cannot do at home.
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