While dogs and humans alike enjoy spending time outdoors in the summer months, owners should take care: heatstroke can kill your puppy without immediate first aid. When the body can’t keep its temperature in a safe range, heatstroke kills pets in only 15 minutes.
Puppies can’t sweat to cool off. Panting provides a rapid exchange of cool outside air, and evaporation from the tongue keeps dog temperature normal. Puppies with white or thin fur also can suffer from sunburn. But when the outside air is the same or greater than pet temperature (101 to 102.5 F), heatstroke develops.
Cars and Heatstroke
Cars become death traps in even relatively mild temperatures. On a 78-degree day, a shaded car reaches temperatures of 90 F. If parked in the sun, it will reach 160 F in minutes.
Leaving the car and air conditioning running is no guarantee of safety. Even extra protection can fail. On July 16, 2003, a Kansas City paper reported that K-9 Officer “Hondo,” a German shepherd dog, died of heatstroke after being left in the still-running air-conditioned police cruiser. The "Hotdog System", a safety system designed to protect K-9 officers, failed to turn on the sirens, open the windows and turn on the fan when temperatures inside the cruiser reached dangerous levels.
Today, one of the most modern available for police dog safety is the computerized Hot-N-Pop system, which is able to sense when the interior of the vehicle has become too hot for the K9 officer. When that happens, the system automatically rolls down the rear windows (windows have metal screens to prevent the dog from jumping out) and activates large window fans that bring in fresh air to help cool the dog. The Hot-N-Pop also activates the car’s emergency lights and horn, as well as sending a signal to a pager worn by the canine handler.
Symptoms of mild heatstroke are a body temperature of 104 to 106 F, a bright red tongue and gums, thick sticky saliva, and rapid panting. When body temperatures go above 106 F, the pet’s gums become pale, it acts dizzy, bleeds from the nose or has bloody vomiting and diarrhea, and ultimately becomes comatose. These pets can develop disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), where the red blood cells blow up and can’t carry oxygen.
Getting the temperature down to 104 F or less is more important than rushing the pet to the emergency clinic—but severe cases DO need veterinary attention once you give first aid. Rectal thermometers usually only register as high as 108 F and pets with severe heatstroke may have a body temperature that goes off the end and reaches 110 F or higher.
For mild heatstroke, bring your puppy into an air-conditioned space and turn on a fan, so the outside temperature is lower than its body temperature and panting can work. Offer ice cubes to lick, or cold Gatorade or Pedialyte or water to drink, and wrap it in cold wet towels.
For severe heatstroke, soak the pet in cold water from the hose, or in the tub or sink. Place ice packs (bags of frozen peas work well) in its “armpit” and groin region where there are major blood vessels. The cold will chill the blood, and as it circulates, it cools the whole body from the inside.
Pets with temperatures at or above 107 F need a cold water enema for even quicker cooling. Use a turkey baster or a contact lens solution bottle filled with ice water if you don’t have an enema bag. Grease the tip with petroleum jelly, K-Y or vegetable oil and insert the tip into the rectum and squeeze gently to fill the cavity with fluid. Once its temperature drops to 104 F, wrap him up in a towel and get him to the emergency room.
Prevention Is Key
It’s even better to prevent heatstroke in pets by providing shade and lots of cool water, or simply keeping pets inside. Never leave pets unattended in cars—that’s just asking for disaster.