The Hovawart Club of Great Britain


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Heatstroke - What to do
Heat exhaustion is an agonising death

Pets are much less efficient at cooling themselves than humans. A dog’s normal body temperature ranges from 38.3 to 38.7 degrees celsius (100.9 to 101.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Dogs can only withstand a body temperature of 41.6 to 42.2 C (107 to 108 F) for a very short period of time before suffering brain damage or even death. A body temp of 41.6 to 42.2 C (107 to 108 F) for a dog is equivalent to 40 to 40.5 C (104 to 105 F) in humans. Dogs for example, have sweat glands only on their nose and the pads of their feet, which are inadequate for cooling during the hot summer days. Panting and drinking cool water helps cool them, but if they only have hot air to breath, animals can suffer heatstroke, brain and organ damage in just 15 to 30 minutes. These effects are increased for short-nosed breeds such as pugs and bulldogs, senior or overweight pets and/or any pets with health or cardiovascular problems.

Dehydration and hyperventilation is also a big factor. Without appropriate hydration your dog cannot produce the nice clear, runny saliva required to cool themselves by evaporation from the tongue when panting. As a result saliva becomes white and sticky, panting becomes ineffective and leads to hyperventilation - their temperature climbs to the point where the animal is essentially boiled alive from the inside.

Symptoms of heatstroke may include the following: vigorous panting, struggling to run, stopping, looking for shade, laying down, looking weak, exhaustion or agitation, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, excessive thirst, fever or dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, white sticky saliva (should be nice and runny), glazed eyes, deep red or purple tongue, graying gums or unconsciousness.

Act fast If an animal shows any of these symptoms take immediate steps to gradually lower their body temperature. Acting quickly and following these tips could save their life:


- Move the dog into the shade or an air conditioned area.

- Your first priority is to cool the dog, next is to hydrate.

- Use cool water (not cold) to wet down the dogs body - a hose is the best.

- If immersing the dog in water such as a pool, tub, lake, steam or river, use caution - make sure the water is not too cold as this can lead to further complications, including cardiac arrest and bloating.

- If you have a limited supply of water, apply to the following key areas in the following priority:
- head, neck and chest.
- inner thighs and stomach of the dog, where there’s a higher concentration of relatively superficial, large blood vessels.
- foot pads.

- Let them drink small amounts of cool water (not cold). Don’t allow the dog to gulp water. If the dog drinks too much water too rapidly, it could lead to vomiting or bloat.

- Keep the dog moving. It’s important to try to encourage your dog to stand or walk slowly as it cools down. This is because the circulating blood tends to pool in certain areas if the dog is lying down, thus preventing the cooled blood from circulating back to the core.

- See a vet as soon as possible. Even if your dog appears to be fully recovered, the vet needs to check to determine if the heatstroke caused any damage to your dog’s kidneys and liver. The effects of heatstroke can continue for 48 to 72 hours longer, even if your dog appears normal.


- Don’t use ice or cold water. When faced with a dog suffering from heatstroke, remember that the goal is to cool the dog. Using ice or extremely cold water is actually counterproductive to this process because ice and cold water cause the blood vessels to constrict, which slows blood flow, thus slowing the cooling process.

- Don’t cover the dog. One of the keys to successfully cooling your dog is ensuring the water being placed on the dog can evaporate. Never cover an overheated dog with a wet towel or blanket. This inhibits evaporation and creates a sauna effect around your dog’s body. Likewise, don’t wet the dog down and put it into an enclosed area, such as a kennel. Any air flow during the cooling process is helpful in reducing the dog’s body temperature. Sitting with the wet dog in a running car with the air conditioner blowing is an ideal cooling situation.

Prevention is the best medicine

The best treatment for heatstroke is prevention. Especially during the summer months, it’s essential to be aware of the potential for heatstroke. Knowing the signs of heatstroke, and taking the necessary steps to prevent it, will ensure your dog can have a safe and active life year-round.

This article was posted on: 15-Jul-09