Dealing with Heat Stroke

First-aid – Heat stroke Hot dogs

Vet REBECCA BAILEY explains how to avoid heat stroke, recognise the symptoms, and what to do if the worst happens.

As I write this, the temperature outside is mid-twenties and the sky is cloudless. We have been fortunate to some extent in that we have had several such days already this year with the prospect of even more to come. Unfortunately with the pleasures of basking in the sun come hazards too. In the heat of the sun we shed the layers, seek shade or in the extremes sweat profusely! For our dogs, these methods of temperature regulation are not so easy. Dogs will often rely on seeking shade and lying on cool surfaces to help lose heat but their main method of heat loss is panting which in itself can generate heat.

Dogs are unable to sweat in the same way as us. If anyone has watched an overheated dog pant they will notice that the tongue becomes very red and almost slightly swollen. This is caused by the superficial blood vessels on the tongue dilating and allowing hot blood to run close to the surface. This in turn warms the saliva on the tongue which as it evaporates takes heat with it.

The efficiency by which a dog can lose heat is determined very much by its environment and what level of activity the dog is doing at the time.

The kennel

This can often be a great place for a dog to be in hot weather providing a few of the following apply:

  • Cool stone or concrete flooring – wood and rubber mats are great for winter insulation but if both options are available to the dog it will usually choose the stone option in the heat of the day
  • Shelter from direct sunlight – although many dogs do enjoy sunbathing, after a while they will generally stagger off to a cooler place. Some kennels have the inner sleeping area in a converted barn or cattle shed. This gives good shelter from direct sunlight over a larger area so keeping the surrounding air cooler too.
  • Good air flow – effective evaporation can only take place if there is a current of air to help move the heat away. An airy outside run with shade or a large ventilated indoor area is good. Avoid a small wooden kennel with no areas of shade in the run it will act like an oven.
    Remember either to top up the water bowl more frequently or provide larger bowls in summer. Panting will result in water loss as well as heat loss.

Training/working tests

  • Timing – unfortunately we cannot govern the time of day that the tests can take place but we can choose when to train. The early mornings and late evenings of summer provide ideal cooler temperatures and can be very enjoyable for all.
  • Wait in the shade – if the car cannot be parked in the shade then try to do as much waiting in the shade between runs as possible.
  • Relaxing – try to avoid dragging the dog round to socialise with all and sundry in the heat of the sun, don’t encourage lots of excitement between runs.
  • Allow your dog to drink little and often – huge intakes of water will lie heavily in the stomach and make it less inclined to move later when it’s time to run.

In the car

  • Good ventilation – window guards are available which can safely let you leave a good air gap alternatively there are cages/transit boxes which fit snugly across the back of the car below the boot lid, these will allow you to safely leave the boot up and provide lots of airflow.
  • Parking in the shade – remember to plan ahead, as the sun moves so will the shade so aim to face the car into the sun so the boot is shaded by the body of the car as much as possible. Ideally park well under the trees.
  • Shaded windows – consider the reflective shields/blinds. Some trucks now have blacked out windows which can help immensely.

All of the above is good old common sense but it is amazing how many people forget it. Assume the day is going to be hot even if it starts cloudy – after all this is the British weather we’re talking about and it is supposed to be summer!


Early stages:

Uncontrollable panting Poor responsiveness to being called Staggering gait or appears weak on standing

More advanced:

Unco-ordinated movements Paddling leg movements/seizure Flicking eye movements Excess salivation/frothing at the mouth


Seek shade – allow a good half an hour in the shade before moving on Soak the dog  – hosepipe/water trough/pond – do not let the dog swim unattended Good airflow – either via a fan or through open windows in a moving car If advanced signs are showing get the dog to a vet asap

REMEMBER if you are running your dog at a test and it is getting hot and bothered consider retiring it early in the day – there is no shame in this. You will have a dog to run again another day rather than a huge vet’s bill or no dog.

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