Can my dog get heat stroke?

Dr. Mavis McCormick-Rantze graduated in 2003 from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. She also has undergraduate degrees in Animal Science and Zoology from the University of Georgia.

Besides small animals, Dr McCormick-Rantze has a strong interest in avian and exotic animals. She lives in Cumming with her husband and their two children, five cats, and two saltwater fish tanks.  Dr. McCormick is the owner of Lanier Animal Hospital, 5700 Cumming Highway, Building B, Sugar Hill, GA  30518.

The quick answer is “Yes!” Even in late Summer/early Fall. We're in Georgia!! IT IS HOT!!!!!! But the real questions are what is heat stroke and how does my dog get it. The true definition for heat stroke is a form of non-fever hyperthermia (high temperature) that will occur when the body’s heat-dissipating mechanisms cannot function correctly to reduce the excessive external heat. It is possible when a dogs’ temperature reaches 106 degrees F or higher, and it leads to multiple organ dysfunction and/or failure.

Now that we know what heat stroke is now we can talk about how dogs can get it. First we have to understand that for the most part dogs are unable to sweat through their skin like people can. Dogs regulate their body temperature mostly though panting, which dumps heat from their bodies through evaporation of water from their tongues rather than their skin. When dogs get overheated, this system of panting to decrease the temperature gets overwhelmed but owners might not notice because the dogs are just panting, not sweating as people do. Also some dogs love to play or exercise so much that they don’t stop until they literally collapse, which can be an extreme emergency and possibly even lead to death. For this reason it is important that owners realize what can cause heat exhaustion and heat stroke and guard against it.

Most people are aware that if you leave your dog in a car especially during the summer months, it can easily succumb to the heat and die. What people don’t understand is how quickly this can happen. We tend to think that if we leave the windows cracked a couple of inches and we will only be in the store for few minutes, our dog will be fine. Then a couple of minute’s turns into 15-20 minutes and you come back to the car and your dog is not moving. It can happen that quickly. Dr. Ernie Ward of Seaside Animal Care actually did a YouTube video of himself on a hot day in a car with cracked windows and it got to 117 degrees within 30 minutes!!! See for yourself, looks pretty uncomfortable.

Other than the obvious of no-no of leaving your dog in a hot car on a super-hot 100 degree day in Georgia we have to think about how to exercise our dogs during the hot summer months and not cause heat stroke or exhaustion. We also need to realize that some breeds are much more susceptible to heat stroke than others—for example, brachycephalic breeds or short nosed dogs like English Bulldogs (Go UGA). It is important to have a good exercise plan for your dog year round but to be very smart about it during the hot summer months. My first advice is to always exercise your dog in the very early AM hours before it gets too hot and humid or late at night almost as the sun is going down. Mid-day walks should be limited basically to going out and do their business and coming right back inside. Don’t allow your dog to stay outside all day unattended and don’t even let your dogs play together in the hot mid-day sun. They can give each other a heat stroke just by playing with each other for 10 minutes during their noon romp around the back yard if they play hard enough.

 It is important also to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion (the last step before heat stroke), which include the inability to get up, very bright red gums and loud, raspy panting. Full heat stroke can include severe lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea (either one with blood in it) and continuing on into full multi-organ failure and death. Once you have observed the symptoms of heat exhaustion in your dog it is critical to get them cooled and to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

So as you can see, prevention is the key to avoiding heat stroke in our furry babies here in the Georgia heat.