Differences Between Heat Exhaustion, Heat Prostration and Heat Stroke

By Karen A. Soukiasian

Hyperthermia is the elevation of body temperature, primarily in response to illness or environment. Excessive heat and humidity are a deadly combination for man and beast! This is especially true for dogs that are not acclimated to it.

Many are under the impression dogs do not sweat. That's not true. However, where and how much they sweat is not enough to cool them down when they are in distress. Dogs barely sweat the pads of their paws. A sign of an overheated dog damp paw prints.

The most effective way for a dog to cool itself is panting; especially if they do not have access to water, a fan, air conditioning, or shade.

Being outside, between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm is particularly dangerous to dogs. Being the hottest hours of the day; the majority of dogs that suffer from hyperthermia, are affected during those 6 hours.

Prevention is the primary objective. However, that is not always possible. The following are the stages of progression to heat stroke. The earlier you realize your dog is in distress and take action, the greater the chances of their survival.

You have less than 10 minutes to get your dog's temperature under control if they have suffered from heat exhaustion. Anything over 103 degrees is dangerous. A body temperature of over 105 degrees for more than 5 minutes is potentially fatal.

Concentrate on cooling the key areas, which are their chest, under their armpits, groins and paw pads.

Heat Exhaustion

The first stage of overheating is called heat exhaustion. Symptoms include: agitated, labored breathing, heavy panting, increased drooling and salivation, rapid heart beat, damp paws, anxious, whining, disoriented, lethargic, dehydrated and/or bright red gums, tongue, inner ear and/or whites of their eyes.

Heat Prostration

The second state is heat prostration. The signs include: shallow breathing, fluctuating and labored panting, dry mouth, glassy-eyed, unfocused, unresponsive to commands, pale/grey gums, confusion, unsteady due to lack of muscle control, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and/or at times bleeding. Immediate veterinary assistance is recommended. Call your veterinarian and let them know you are on your way, so they can be prepared for urgent action.

Heat Stroke

The third and possibly fatal stage is heat stroke. The signs include: pale, grey gums, loss of consciousness, labored, barely breathing or panting, stop breathing, tremors, seizure, lethargic, dehydrated, thick sticky salvia, vomiting, loss of bladder/bowel control, bleeding, coma and death. If the dog's body temperature is over 104 degrees, you have 5 minutes to get them to the nearest veterinarian. If possible, call them so they can be prepared to take urgent action.

Helpful Tips to Prevent Hyperthermia

  • Keep your dog inside, between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm as much as possible.
  • Keep your dog well hydrated. Always make sure more than one bucket or bowl of fresh water is accessible at all times.
  • A kiddie pool in the shade, with 2 inches of water, not only gives your dog access to drinking water; it's a fun way to cool down quickly.
  • Do the pinch test. Pinch the skin between their shoulder blades. If it does not immediately snap back into place, dehydration has started.
  • Lift your dog's lip; press your index finger on their gum until it turns white. Release. If it does not turn pink immediately, your dog is dehydrated.
  • Add a cup of Gatorade or Pedialyte to their water buckets. They need the extra electrolytes. Encourage them to drink, but only small amounts at a time.
  • If your dog is overheated, do not allow them to drink water too fast, or give them water that is ice cold. It can cause vomiting, which will only exacerbate their dehydration.
  • Walk and moderately exercise your dog only during the cooler hours of the day.
  • Carry water and collapsible bowls on extended walks.
  • Keep water and bowl in your vehicle.
  • Provide a sprinkler on a low setting or hose your dog down periodically.
  • Provide plenty of shade.
  • Do not leave your dog outside unsupervised for more than one half hour, when weather is humid and hot.
  • Give your dog ice cube treats or a block of ice, made with a combination of water and either Gatorade or Pedialyte to play with. Plain ice cubes also work!
  • Use a cooling collar during walks. They are available in pet stores and online.
  • Provide a cooling mat in the summer. They are available in pet stores and online.
  • Groom your dog. Matted hair retains body heat.
  • Dark hair dogs need extra concern when in the direct sun. Cool them down periodically.
  • Keep their weight in check. Obese dogs have a harder time cooling down.
  • Never leave a puppy, senior or ill dog outside unsupervised.
  • Do not confine your pet in a confined area such as a garage or plastic crate without adequate ventilation.
  • If you must leave your dog outside in the summer, take necessary precautions In addition, have someone check on them. Provide a hose and ask them to hose your dog down periodically. Inform them on signs to watch for and what to do if your dog is in distress.
  • If your dog has already suffered from heat related episodes, be extra vigilant. They are prone to future problems.

What To Do If Hyperthermia Has Started

  • Do not use ice-cold water when treating your dog. It can throw them into shock!
  • Hold frozen bags of vegetables on their chest, under their armpits, on their groins and on their paw pads. Frozen peas or corn work great!
  • Wipe under their armpits, groin and pads of their feet with rubbing alcohol.
  • Immediately hose or pour cool water on them. Concentrate on their chest, under the armpits, groin and pads of their feet.
  • Put your dog in the bathtub and shower them with cool water.
  • Place your dog in the shade and if possible on wet grass, towel or mat.
  • Place ice chips or gently squeeze from a towel; water mixed with Gatorade or Pedialyte into the corner of the dog's mouth.
  • Place your dog in front of a fan or air conditioner. If possible wet them or place a wet towel on them.
  • Get veterinary attention as soon as possible.
  • When transporting your dog to the veterinarian, place a wet towel over your dog, put them on front seat near air conditioning vent.

Brachycephalic dogs, such as Bulldogs, Boxers and Pugs are the most common victims of heat-associated problems. With their pushed in face, short muzzle and short head, their shorter upper airway lessens their ability to exhale hot air and inhale cooler air fast enough to lower their body temperature.

Examples of breeds prone to heat sensitivity include: Boxer, Shar Pei, Great Dane, Mastiff, Boston Terrier, French Bulldog, English Bulldog, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, English Bulldog, Pekingese, Chow-Chow, Rottweiler, Collie, Maltese, Pomeranian, Yorkshire Terrier, Basset Hound, Newfoundland, Japanese Chin, Shih Tzu, Bernese Mountain Dog, St. Bernard, Bichon Frise, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Border Collie, Clumberland Spaniel, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Bottom line: Take extra precautions in the summer. The combination of heat and humidity is a killer. Err on the side of caution. If you suspect your pet has heat exhaustion, prostration or stroke, don't waste time. Cool them down as quickly as possible, concentrating on the key areas and immediately get them to the nearest veterinarian. Even if your dog responds to your treatment, follow-up with your veterinarian. Usually, once an animal suffers from heat related problems, it becomes an on-going concern.

Karen A. Soukiasian
Article by Karen A. Soukiasian
Karen A. Soukiasian, GOOD DOG! - DOG TRAINING and BED-n-BISCUITS dog boarding and training - Owner/Trainer, St. Augustine, Florida - AKC CANINE GOOD CITIZEN and S.T.A.R. PUPPY Evaluator. Visit my website at: www.freewebs.com/gooddogsite and www.bednbiscuits.webs.com.