Heat Stroke

Heat stroke (hyperthermia) in dogs is, unfortunately, a common problem for pets in the Phoenix area. Heat stroke is defined as elevated body temperature to a degree and for a long enough time to cause damage to vital body tissues and organs. Dogs cannot sweat, as people do, to dissipate body heat. Their only means of removing body heat is through panting, a fairly inefficient method of heat dissipation.

Body temperature above 107 degrees for more than a few minutes will cause cell death in body tissues. Initial signs of a dog in heat trouble are intense, rapid panting, wide eyes, salivating, staggering and weakness. Advanced heat stroke victims will collapse and become unconscious.  The gums will appear pale and dry. Left untreated, the animal will die of massive intravascular clotting, hemorrhaging, cerebral edema, kidney failure, and sepsis from intestinal necrosis.

We have all heard of the extreme cases of dogs left unattended in cars. The temperature in an enclosed vehicle will run 160 degrees or higher, and a pet in that vehicle will succumb to heat stress in less than 10 minutes. But much more common in Phoenix is heat stroke in pets that are walked outdoors in the heat, or are left outdoors without adequate shade or water. Thousands of dogs are brought to Phoenix area veterinarians each summer for treatment of heat stroke. Many of these dogs overheated during routine activities such as leash walking, playing in the yard, or morning hikes. Remember, the ground temperature (where the dog lives) is many degrees higher than the air temperature.

Your dog cannot tell you when he is starting to feel the effects of the heat. Your dog loves you and wants to do whatever he can to please you, and he will try to keep up with your activity long after he should stop and cool off. We, as responsible pet owners, must be aware at all times of our dogs’ condition when outdoors.

Here are some tips for avoiding heat stress.

  • Do not walk your dog outdoors when the daytime temperature is above 90 degrees. You risk heat trauma to yourself and your dog, and you will burn your dog’s feet. In Phoenix that may mean no leash walks at all for June to September.
  • Take along water for you and your dog.
  • Stop in the shade frequently for a rest.
  • Seek alternative activities for your dog in the summer.
    • Swimming
    • A trip to Petsmart (You can take your dog into the store.)
    • A trip to the mountains
    • Nighttime leash walks (Careful! Phoenix overnight temps could be 95 or higher!)
    • Take your dog to an indoor doggy day care site a few days a week.
    • Stay off sidewalks or asphalt that will scorch your dog’s footpads.