July 01, 2020 Dogs Emergency

Decreasing the Risk of Heatstroke in your Dog

A bulldog at a summer event

Decreasing the Risk of Heatstroke in your Dog

Summer is upon us, and with it comes the risk of heatstroke in our pets. Stay-at-home orders and global warming compound the risk of heat-related illness by keeping us indoors where it can be difficult to stay cool. Researchers in the UK published new information on heatstroke in dogs, also known as heat-related illness, seen at primary care veterinary practices. The findings can help dog owners protect their pet against this preventable, but potentially fatal illness.

Definition of Heatstroke

Heatstroke occurs when a dog’s core temperature skyrockets because their temperature regulatory mechanism cannot keep up with a hot outside temperature. Dogs can develop heat-related injury outdoors on a hot day or at home in a hot apartment or house. High humidity also contributes to heatstroke in dogs because they pant to cool off, and evaporative cooling from panting is less effective when the humidity is high. If an overheated dog is not cooled off quickly, serious complications like organ failure and death can occur.

Flat Faces are High Risk

Dogs bred for their cute-as-a-button flat face have a much greater risk of developing heat-related injuries. Because dogs don’t sweat, they pant to cool off. Flat faces offer less surface area for the cooling effect of panting. Many flat faced, or “brachycephalic,” dogs also have small windpipes and other respiratory abnormalities that make cooling more difficult. The UK researchers found brachycephalic dogs had a 2-fold increase in their risk of developing heat-related injury compared to pointy nosed dogs.

Breeds at Risk of Heatstroke

Breed and head shape are inter-related risks for heat related injury. Flat faces are the hallmark of several breeds at risk for heat related injury: Caviler King Charles Spaniel, Bulldog, French Bulldog and Pug. But haircoat plays a role in the increased risk found in heavy-coated Chow Chows and Golden retrievers. Greyhounds have neither flat faces nor heavy coats, but they are thought to be at increased risk due to their heavily muscled frame which generates more heat. Of these breeds, the Chow Chow has a whopping 16 times greater risk of heat-related injury than a Labrador retriever and the Bulldog a 13 times greater risk.

Body Weight Risk

The research team assessed dogs’ body weight compared to breed-specific weights. Those dogs whose weight was above the average weight for their breed had an increased risk of heat related injury. Once again, keeping your dog at their ideal body condition score has health benefits. Small dogs had a very low risk of heat related injury. Chihuahua dogs, Shih tzus and Lhasa Apsos all had a decreased risk of heat related injury, believed to be due to their small size.

Protecting Your Dog from Heatstroke

You can’t change your dog’s breed or face shape, but knowing these dogs have an increased risk of heat related injury allows you to be smarter about scheduling walks and exercise. Dogs at increased risk for heat stroke should stay indoors with the AC on during hot and humid days. If you do head outside, make sure your dog has plenty of water to drink, shade from the sun and maybe even a run through the sprinkler or hose to cool off. Finally, you can control your dog’s body weight, so make sure your dog’s diet is not contributing to their risk of heatstroke.

For tips on keeping your dog cool, read Hot Summer, Cool Dogs.

Tags: bulldogs, cavalier king charles, chow chow, dogs, french bulldogs, golden retriever, greyhound, pug, summer,

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