It's freaking hot outside right now. Unlike me — every chance I get — your furry best friend isn't able to tell you when they're getting too hot and too thirsty. Heatstroke is devastatingly common in dogs, and that's why it is absolutely crucial to recognize when your dog is getting hot and what to do if your dog starts overheating.
Most of us already know that it's not safe to leave our dog in the car when we're running errands in the heat. You've likely even seen a YouTube video or two of people breaking car windows in order to rescue dogs from hot vehicles, and you've probably cheered as the poor, panting pups were retrieved, too. However, heatstroke can and often does occur outside of these sauna-cars, so don't assume this is something you won't need to worry about.
The earliest signs that your dog is overheating look pretty dang similar to behaviors that healthy dogs exhibit regularly in the summertime: panting and fast breathing, according to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. My own dog, Henry, can't function in civilized society unless we play fetch with him for an hour every morning. Obviously, we see panting as a great sign — it means our hyperactive chocolate lab might actually be (gasp) tired. For once!
But while a panting dog doesn't need to be rushed to the emergency veterinarian, they do need to cool off. If you've noticed that your dog is panting, keep an eye on them. It's important to watch your dog and make sure they gradually return to normal, and don't gradually get worse.
What does "worse" look like? "Signs of true overheating or heatstroke can include, but are not limited to, cognitive dysfunction (they may not respond to their name or seem to be acting slow), diarrhea or vomiting, their gums may turn dark red, and some others signs are possible," says Doctor of Veterinary Medicine June Wiley in an interview with Romper.
Other symptoms, like dizziness and excessive drooling, are serious signs that your dog is having a heatstroke, too. It might even seem like your dog is working overtime trying to catch their breath. If you find your dog in the later stages of heat stroke, you might even witness seizures, strange behavior, a weakened pulse, or a collapse, noted PetMD.
What exactly should you do if you suspect your dog is overheating? Begin cooling your dog off immediately. Bring them inside or into the shade as quickly as possible. Submerge them in cool water — a bathtub, swimming pool, or hose down is perfect. Keep in mind that you want cool, not ice cold water, which PetMD noted can actually make a dog having a heatstroke shiver and generate more heat. Most importantly, give them a big bowl of water ASAP.
"Room temperature is best, and give it slowly so they don't drink too fast, vomit, and become dehydrated," veterinary technician Cady Sargent tells Romper. Once your dog is in a safe and cool place, call your vet. After they hear your dog's symptoms, they'll let you know if you need to head to emergency care.
Of course, the best thing you can do for your furry best friend is to prevent heatstrokes in the first place. So, how can you do that? "Limit activity that is outside during high degree heat and in full sun. Be sure they have plenty of shade, plenty of water, and breaks inside in the air conditioning. Also, always be aware of hot pavement and other surfaces. If you can't or wouldn't walk on a hot surface with bare feet, then your dog shouldn't either," says Sargent.
Certain dogs are more at risk for overheating, so certain puppy parents should keep an extra eye on their companion. "These dogs include thick-coated dogs, overweight dogs, and short-nosed breeds, like pugs or bull dogs," says Wiley.
As a doting dog mom, I know my dogs' typical demeanor and behavior. You do, too. If your dog has been in the heat and is acting "off," don't waste time second-guessing the symptoms. "If you are at all concerned, call your vet. If you try home remedies in a serious case of heat stroke, your dog may not make it," says Wiley.
Our fur babies depends on us to keep them safe and healthy — so let's understand the signs, watch for the red flags, and protect them from overheating.