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Protecting our paws: Recognizing, preventing and responding to heat stress in dogs

Friday, August 11, 2023

Media Contact: Taylor Bacon | Communications Specialist | 405-744-6728 |

As temperatures soar, pet owners should be aware of the risks hot weather can pose to pets.

Heat stress is a serious condition that can affect dogs of all breeds and sizes, with brachycephalic breeds (pugs, bulldogs, boxers, etc.), overweight dogs, dogs with thick coats and those with pre-existing conditions having a higher risk. As responsible pet owners, it's our duty to keep our four-legged friends safe and cool during these hot summer days.

This article will address signs of heat stress in dogs, tips to prevent it and what to do if your canine pal shows signs of heat stress.

Compared to humans, dogs have a more limited ability to regulate their body temperature. This makes them more susceptible to heat stress. As pet owners, it's crucial to recognize the early signs of heat stress, as prompt action can be lifesaving. Keep an eye out for the following signs:

  1. Excessive panting: If you notice your dog panting heavily and excessively, it may be a sign they are struggling to cool down.
  2. Increased salivation: Dogs suffering from heat stress may excessively drool or foam at the mouth.
  3. Fatigue and weakness: Heat-stressed dogs often exhibit lethargy and weakness, struggling to stand or walk.
  4. Bright red gums and tongue: Check your dog's gums and tongue; if they appear unusually red, it could indicate heat stress.
  5. Vomiting and diarrhea: Heat stress can cause digestive upset, leading to vomiting or diarrhea.
  6. Difficulty breathing: Rapid and labored breathing is a severe sign of heat stress and requires immediate attention.

Prevention is always better than seeking to cure. With a few simple precautions, you can ensure your dog stays cool and comfortable during hot weather.

  1. Provide ample shade and water: Whether indoors or outdoors, make sure your dog has access to shaded areas and fresh, cool water at all times.
  2. Limit outdoor activities: Avoid exercising your dog during the hottest parts of the day. Aim for early morning or late evening walks when temperatures are cooler.
  3. Create a cool environment: If you don't have air conditioning, use fans or cooling mats to create a comfortable space for your dog.
  4. Never leave your dog in a parked car: Even on a mild day, the temperature inside a parked car can rise rapidly and become life-threatening for your pet.
  5. Watch for hot surfaces: Asphalt and sand can get scorching hot, burning your dog's paws. Place the back of your hand on the pavement. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for their paws. Stick to grassy areas during walks.

If you suspect your dog is experiencing heat stress, take action immediately:

  1. Move to a cooler area: Immediately take your dog indoors.
  2. Offer water: Allow your dog to drink small amounts of cool water.
  3. Use cool, wet towels: Dampen a towel with cool water and place it on your dog's body, especially the head, neck and paw pads.
  4. Contact your veterinarian: If your dog's condition does not improve or worsens, seek immediate veterinary attention.

As devoted pet owners, it's our responsibility to safeguard our dogs from the dangers of heat stress. By familiarizing ourselves with the signs of heat stress, implementing preventive measures and acting promptly if heat stress occurs, we can ensure our furry friends stay safe, comfortable and healthy during periods of extreme heat.

For questions regarding heat stress in pets, call the hospital at 405-744-7000.

About the author: Melissa Raymond, DVM, is a clinical assistant professor in small animal primary care at the Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine. To make an appointment with Dr. Raymond at the OSU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, call 405-744-7000.

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