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Articles > Dogs

Preventing and Treating Heat Stroke and Sunburn

Topic: Going to the Beach

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Filed under Dogs
Tags: Heat Stroke, Heat Sensitivity

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Any dog is potentially at risk for both heat stroke as well as sunburn, especially when they are outside during the heat of the day. Most dogs are going to be outside only for small periods of time or they will have a dog house, kennel or shaded spot to lie down and relax when they are outside at their house or on their own property. A day at the beach tends to be very different with a lot more exercise and activity, fewer opportunities to relax and rest in the shade and a lot more exposure to direct sunlight and heat.


Dogs at risk for sunburn include those breeds with very fine, short coats or dogs that have skin, especially pink or white skin, exposed. This includes breeds such as the Maltese that has the noticeable part down the spine, Chinese Crested that are of the hairless variety but also very short haired breeds such as Boxers, Chihuahuas or Bull Terriers are also at risk. Dogs that have recently been clipped and have not been outside to develop a "tan" will also burn if the trip to the beach is their first exposure to the sun. Remember skin of long haired dogs is not exposed at all under normal conditions and may be highly sensitive to UV rays. White dogs with light or pink skin are very likely to develop sunburn on the nose as well as on the ears if they carry the ears pricked.

Collie breeds, especially those that have a white patch, mask, blaze or stripe down the muzzle to the nose with corresponding pink pigmentation of the skin can actually develop a skin condition known as nasal solar dermatitis or Collie nose. This is actually a condition caused by chronic sunburning and sensitivity that will lead to ulceration of the skin and a crusty, dried looking scab. In severe conditions it may bleed and result in the development of rough scar tissue on the nose and occasionally on the upper eyelids in white faced dogs.

There are special dog sunscreens available at pet stores that can be found in the form of lotions, creams or sprays. Human sunscreen will work, just be sure to use at least an SPF 15 and ideally an SPF 30. Apply before getting into the sun as well as every two hours once at the beach. Dogs that are in and out of the water may need to have additional sunscreen to maintain protection.

Hairless breeds or dogs with very fine or thin coats can be protected with a doggy t-shirt or a human t-shirt that is tied to fit snuggly but not tightly to the body. It is recommended that hairless breed should only be allowed in the sun for very short periods of time even with sunscreen and should be tethered or kept in shaded areas as much as possible.

Treating dog sunburn is the same as for humans. Apply soothing aloe vera gels or lotions as well as keep the area clean and hydrated. Avoid using any type of scented products or oily products such as Vaseline as this can cause infections, bacterial growth and poor healing.

Heat Stroke

Any dog can develop heat stroke if they are not carefully monitored. Dogs most at risk are obese dogs, senior dogs, double coated breeds and those breeds with the short Pug-like muzzles. These types of dogs should be kept in shaded areas out of direct sunlight as much as possible and should not be allowed to run or play strenuously in the heat of the day. If they are in and out of the water there is not as much risk, however they do need to be monitored closely for any signs of discomfort or heat stroke.

The first signs of heat stroke include heavy panting and heaving, in some cases wheezing and struggling for breath. The dog may stand with the legs planted to the side, head down, struggling to breath. Some dogs will drool while others will simply pant heavily. Typically the dogs appear dazed and disoriented and may not respond to verbal commands as they become increasingly stressed. If the dogs go beyond this stage they may begin to stagger, vomit or have seizures and they will soon go into a coma and may die if not cooled and treated.

At the first sign of heat stroke get the dogs out of the sun and cool them with water. Run the water over their feet and bodies, but be very careful to keep them calm and don't run water over their heads as this can cause them to panic. Keep the dog as still as possible and don't attempt to force them to drink, it is more important to get their core body temperature down. Once the dog is breathing more normally, offer water. If you do submerge the dog in the lake or water be sure to hold their head as they could become unconscious and may risk drowning if not held and kept secure.

If the dog does reach the point of staggering or going into a coma, you will need to cool the body as quickly as possible but then also immediately get the dog to a vet. Often at this point there may be neurological damage that can be minimized with electrolyte treatment and medical care. Not taking your dog to the vet if they have had a seizure or have gone into a coma can result in permanent damage that may become progressively worse.

Sometimes dogs can even develop heat stroke on the first warm day of spring if they go for a walk down at the beach but are not yet acclimatized to the heat and sun. This is often more problematic for senior or obese dogs or dogs with extremely heavy winter coats that have not yet started or completed their seasonal shedding.

Dogs that are prone to heat stroke may not be good companions for the beach or they may be more comfortable taking a walk or a stroll in the cooler morning hours or in the evening after the sun has gone down. In addition limit any types of strenuous play.

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