It is impossible to tell how many dogs perish each summer due to heat stroke, dehydration and other related health conditions. Dogs can quickly overheat since they have limited cooling options for their body core. Panting and some sweating from the feet is the only options available to dogs that are in hot climates, left in vehicles or confined to yards and areas where there is little or no shade from the direct sun. It only takes a few minutes of the body core temperature rising above 5 or 6 degrees over the normal body temperature to result in permanent neurological problems, comas and death.
In most cases heat stroke and dehydration are completely preventable if the owner's simply understood the risk they were putting their dogs in. The biggest problem is dog's left in vehicles, even for short periods of time. With the temperature outside in the 80's, a vehicle parked in the direct sunlight with the windows slightly rolled down can easily get to be over 100 degrees within a few minutes. Basically the vehicle becomes an insulated capsule, with the dog having no way to get out of the intense, life threatening heat. Dogs should never be left in vehicles in warm climates, even with the windows open. If at all possible run errands without the dog in the car or have someone accompany you that can take the dog out of the car to avoid the problem when you have to stop.
While any dog that is left in a vehicle can and will rapidly develop heat stroke, there are some breeds that are just more prone to heat stroke in almost any hot climate condition. In general the brachycephalic dogs, those with the very short muzzles, are at the greatest risk even in only moderately warm conditions. These dogs include breeds such as the Pugs, Shih Tzus, Maltese, Pomeranians, Boxers, Boston Terriers, some of the Mastiffs, and mixed breeds that favor the facial structure of these breeds.
The reason that short muzzled dogs have the most problem is because the air passages are so short that the hot, outside air is not cooled through the nasal passages, rather the hot air is brought directly into the bodies core. In cases where there is heat stroke due to moderate to high levels of activity and heat, it is usually a combination of the poor heat exchange combined with small respiratory passages that don't allow enough air to circulate through the system to cool and remove the heat from the body core.
The second group of dogs that tends to have problems with heat stroke are those with deep, thick and double coats. Often these are the large breeds of dogs including Newfoundlands, St. Bernards, Great Pyrenees and even the Collies. Again, cooling and removing heat from the body is the biggest problem for these breeds.
Signs of Heat Stroke
Heat stroke tends to come on rather quickly but there are some early warning signs to watch for. Dogs that are excessively panting and drooling, staggering, disoriented, and may even simply lie down in the middle of a game or activity when it is hot may be showing the first signs. In more advanced stages, which happen relatively quickly if the dog is not cooled, can include vomiting, bleeding from the nasal passages or the mouth, seizures or tremors, frantic and anxious behavior, coma and very quickly death.
What To Do
The most important thing is to get the dog somewhere cool and out of the sun immediately. Don't wait and don't expect the dog to go to the shade on his or her own. Have them lie down or sit and get as much cool but not cold water on their body as possible, focusing on the legs and chest area. A hose, cold wet towels or even putting the dog in a bathtub or kids swimming pool will all work very well. If the dog is at all disoriented don't leave them alone in water as they can slip under the water and drown.
Avoid using ice in the water as the temperature change is too steep and can cause other complications and even put the dog into shock. If you can't find water get the dog into shade or someplace that is air conditioned or has a fan, including your car if you can cool it off quickly. Never put a dog with heat stroke into a hot car to wait for it to cool off.
You can offer the dog water but he or she will not likely drink until the body temperature is back to normal. Never force water into the dog's mouth, as this can cause anxiety and possibly force water into the lungs. Call the vet immediately and get the dog into an emergency clinic. Even if he or she seems to have recovered there are imbalances in the blood that may need to be corrected to prevent long term health conditions.
If you have a pug nosed dog or a dog with a thick, heavy coat, be sure to only exercise him or her in the cool of the morning or the evening, or even better do some indoor training to minimize the dog's exposure to the hottest parts of the day.
Dehydration is a part of heat stroke but can also occur on its own. Any dog that does not have free access to clean water runs the risk of becoming dehydrated, even if they are not active. Always ensure that your pet has fresh clean water whenever they need it, or at least every two hours if they are travelling or there are other reasons why free access is not possible.
If you are walking, hiking or jogging with your dog be sure to watch for signs of dehydration which can include excessive panting and signs of anxiety. A good idea is to carry a bottle of water for your dog and whenever you take a drink provide one for the dog. Collapsible dog water bowels are easy to pack and carry and make keeping your dog well hydrated easy no matter where you are.