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How To Handle Your Dog's Emergency Heat Stress

Both obesity and advancing years reduce a dog's tolerance to extremes of heat. The brachycephalic breeds (those with the pushed-in face) are particularly susceptible, due to their normal respiratory difficulties. It is through respiration that the majority of your dog's excess body heat is eliminated.

When you and I get overheated, we breathe rapidly and perspire all over our bodies. Because of their hair coats, dogs are unable significantly to perspire through their skins, although a small amount does occur through the underside of the paws. For all practical purposes, excess body heat must be removed by rapid respiration.

Most dogs, other than the brachycephalics, can withstand exposure to the sun and rather high environmental temperature as long as they are free to move about. It is confinement, restraint, and excitement in hot weather that sets the stage for heat stress.

The dog left inside a car in the sun, leashed to a post outside the supermarket, or held in a pen when there are other dogs nearby to excite it, is a prime candidate for this life-threatening emergency.

Symptoms range from panting with a hot dry tongue, bright red mucous membranes in the mouth, rapid heartbeat, and a hot, dry skin, to a dazed look, inability to stand, unconsciousness, and death. The body temperature may be between 106 and 110F (41.1 -43.3 C). The chance of death increases in direct proportion to the length of time the body temperature remains that high. This is a true emergency.

If heat problems occur, remove the dog from the constraining environment to a cooler place, preferably indoors. Immediately, before anything else is done, telephone your veterinarian. If she is in, and you can get to her clinic quickly, go directly there.

In the event travel time will be prolonged, she may advise you to start emergency treatment at home, under her telephone direction, and then bring your dog to the clinic. But suppose you cannot reach her by phone - you're camping out miles from a telephone, or she is on vacation and the nearest veterinarian is in another town at a considerable distance. You must take action at once!

The most urgent need is to lower the dog's body temperature. Immerse the entire body, except the head, in cold or ice water - bathtub, stream, river, or lake - anything that has or can hold cold water. Take care to support the dog so he doesn't collapse into the water.

Massage the skin all over the body and flex and extend the legs one at a time. This will stimulate the flow of the cooled blood back to the heart, through the internal parts of the body and to the heat sensitive brain.

If you have a rectal thermometer handy, check the temperature every seven to ten minutes until it reads 103 F (39.4 C). Do not cool below that point. The dog should then be removed from the water and the temperature checked with the same frequency for at least three-quarters of an hour, to be sure it doesn't start to go up again.

Once the temperature has remained stable for that period of time, take your dog as quickly as possible to a veterinarian somewhere. There are important medications which should be given to prevent the many serious complications which can follow heat stress.

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