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Preventing Heat Exhaustion in Dogs in Metro DC

Following the long, cold Washington, DC winter, you and your pup are likely itching to get outdoors and have a little fun in the summer sun. While that's all well and good, you'll want to be careful to ensure that your dog doesn't suffer heat exhaustion under the hot summer sun. That's why it is essential to know the signs of heat exhaustion in dogs and what preventative measures you can take to ensure that your pup remains cool through those dog days of summer.

Heat Exhaustion in Dogs

Heat exhaustion, sometimes called heatstroke or overheating, occurs when a dog’s body temperature rises above normal. A dog's average normal body temperature is usually between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Unlike humans, dogs have very few sweat glands, so they cannot cool off the same way humans do, and, as a result, they can overheat more easily. A dog cools itself off by panting, significantly reducing its body temperature.

Heat Exhaustion typically occurs in dogs left outdoors on sweltering hot summer days, but there are other instances where a dog could develop heat exhaustion, including:

  • in high humidity situations, even on days when the temperature is reasonably lower

  • when the dog doesn’t take proper “cool down” breaks during play

  • when the dog does not have access to fresh water on warm days

  • when the dog is inside the house on hot days with inadequate ventilation or without air conditioning.

  • when the dog is inside a vehicle, even if it doesn’t feel like its hot outside

A dog can die from heat exhaustion, so it is important to recognize the warning signs.

What Are the Signs of Heat Exhaustion in Dogs?

When it comes to recognizing heat exhaustion in dogs, it is crucial to keep an eye out for signs of overheating, including:

  • excessive drooling

  • excessive panting

  • difficulty breathing

  • weakness

  • vomiting

  • diarrhea

  • stumbling or issues with coordination

  • seizures

  • sudden collapse

If your dog displays one or more of these signs of heat exhaustion, you need to act immediately because once a dog starts to overheat, heat exhaustion will progress quickly.

Some Dogs Are More at Risk of Developing Heat Exhaustion

Any dog can suffer from heat exhaustion, but brachycephalic dog breeds with short muzzles, like pugs and bulldogs, are at greater risk because they have a more challenging time eliminating body heat by panting compared to other breeds.

Elderly and overweight dogs and those who suffer from heart or lung diseases are also at a greater risk of heat exhaustion.

Never leave an at-risk dog alone outside in the Washington, DC summer heat. Instead, the dog should stay in an air-conditioned space whenever they are left alone.

If you are worried about leaving your dog inside alone during the day, consider hiring a responsible Washington, DC dog walker to get your pooch out of the house safely while you’re gone.

How to Respond to Heat Exhaustion in Dogs

When your dog exhibits early signs of heat exhaustion, like panting or vomiting, bring the dog inside and provide them with cool water, not cold water.

Determine the dog’s temperature using a digital rectal thermometer. If the temperature is higher than 102.2 degrees, cover the dog in towels that have been soaked in lukewarm water. Also, you can apply rubbing alcohol to the dog’s paw pads. The idea is to cool the dog down gradually.

Never put cold water on a dog suffering from heat exhaustion, as this could cause a dangerous change in blood pressure.

The dog's body temperature should take approximately ten minutes to decrease. Once the dog’s body temperature has reached 102.5, you can stop the cool-down efforts as the dog’s temperature drops on its own. On the other hand, if the dog's temperature fails to improve after ten minutes, you should immediately get the dog to their vet (or an emergency vet) and seek advanced support, which may consist of supplying intravenous fluids, maintaining blood pressure, and administering medications.

How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion in Dogs

There is a possibility of heat exhaustion any time the outside temperature reaches above 80 degrees Fahrenheit or when there is high humidity. If these conditions exist, you can take the following precautions to keep your dog cool:

  • Do not leave your dog outside, unsupervised, on hot, humid days.

  • Keep them inside in an air-conditioned space when you are not at home with your dog.

  • Whenever your dog is outside, be sure they have access to fresh water and shelter from the direct sunlight.

  • Ensure dog walking and exercise occur early in the day before the temperature reaches a dangerous level. Otherwise, stick to shady areas and keep it brief.

  • Never leave a dog alone in a parked vehicle because heat can quickly build to deadly levels inside a closed vehicle, even on days that don’t seem hot.

  • On the hottest days, keep all brachycephalic breeds, obese and elderly dogs, and those suffering from heart and lung diseases inside an air-conditioned space, only letting them outside for short bathroom breaks.

Heat Exhaustion Takeaways for Dog Parents

The human body responds differently to the heat and humidity than a pet’s body responds. Even on days when it may feel comfortable for us, the temperature and the humidity can have devastating effects on our pets.

That is why dog parents must be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion in dogs and know how to protect our four-legged friends on hot and humid days.

When you follow these simple rules for protecting your dog from heat exhaustion, you and your pup can responsibly enjoy the summer sun all season long while remaining safe and comfortable, indoors and out.


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