With a miraculous switch in the weather between May and June, suddenly the risk of heat stroke is a genuine concern as we see cases rising at the practice.

We can all appreciate the concerns of climate change and the ever-higher temperatures reached each summer.  So much so, even without fur we can become uncomfortable. We need to be 10x more vigilant when it comes to our pets. They are vulnerable not only due to their extra layer but also because, as owners, we dictate their environment and activity and sadly, we don’t always get it right all of the time. 

When we get it wrong, our pets will become restless, pant excessively and feel tired at best. At worse, heat stroke causes dehydration, diarrhoea, sickness and eventually seizures, organ failure and death. In the UK, 1 in 7 dogs affected by heat-related illness died from the condition.  

How do dogs get heat stroke?

Overheating can happen when the environmental temperature rises (for example, on a very hot day or being left in a hot car), or when the body generates excessive heat through exercising – either exercising heavily or exercising in a hot environment. The latest evidence shows that in the UK, most dogs that experience heat-related illness, do so after exercising, typically walking or playing in hot weather. Just like people, when the temperatures start to climb, some dogs will overheat simply sitting somewhere hot. This could be sitting in the garden, spending the day at the beach or even being trapped in a hot house.

Dogs also die in hot cars. Sadly, despite years of campaigning, some people still take a gamble and leave their dog in the car, hoping it will be ok. Between April and September leaving your dog in the car is particularly dangerous, but dogs have died in hot cars as early as March, so never assume it’s safe to leave your dog in a vehicle. 

Is your dog at increased risk of heat-related illness?

New evidence in the UK shows that the following factors greatly increase your dog’s risk of heat related illness:

• elderly 
• having underlying heart or breathing problems
• overweight or obese
• flat-faced (brachycephalic) 
• a large or giant breed 
• dehydrated or unwell
• the following breeds, for example Bulldog, French Bulldog, Chow Chow, Dogue de Bordeaux, Greyhound, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Pug, Golden Retriever or Springer Spaniel

Exertional heat-related illness is particularly a problem for younger dogs, active dogs (including Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies, Boxers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers), and particularly male dogs.

Environmental heat illness is a greater risk for older dogs and flat-faced dogs.

Any dog is at risk when left in a hot car, but flat-faced dogs will develop heat-related illness faster due to their limited capacity to cool through panting.

What does heat stroke look like?

Dogs that are overheating often show the following signs:

• excessive panting, even at rest, along with bright red or blue gums
• collapsing, or being unsteady when walking
• passing diarrhoea or vomiting that may contain blood
• not responding normally or even losing consciousness
• fitting (seizuring)• unexplained bruises that appear on the gums or under the skin

If your dog develops any of these signs in the heat or during exercise, you should immediately get them out of the sun, stop exercising them, cool them with water and phone us for advice. Early cooling and rapid veterinary care result in improved survival. If your dog is flat-faced or has lost consciousness, avoid drowning by keeping their head out of the water and avoid spraying water near their head.

How do I keep my dog safe?

Prevention is the best way to protect your dog from heat-related illness. 

NEVER leave a dog in a car.

DO NOT exercise your dog in hot weather or during hot times of the day, even between spring and early summer.

Take care travelling with your dog in hot weather; if you are going on a long journey, ensure you can keep dogs cool and check on them regularly. Pay special attention to prevention if you have chosen to own a flat-faced dog or one of the other breeds shown to be at increased risk. And be extra vigilant if your dog is elderly or has some health issues that affect their breathing or hearts.The British Veterinary Association, Dogs trust, Vets Now and RSPCA have lots of information for further reading on this subject. The underlying message will always be the same.