Avoiding Heat Related Injuries in Dogs
Nate Baxter DVM
The first thing that needs to be understood is that dogs and people
are different enough that most of the info cannot cross lines. I do
not profess to know what the appropriate procedures for people other
than what I learned in first aid.
Dogs do not lose enough electrolytes thru exercise to make a
difference, but if the dog gets truly into heat stroke the
physiology changes will make them necessary. BUT oral replacement at
that point is futile, they need IV and lots of it.
Cooling: Evaporative cooling is the most efficient mean of cooling.
However, in a muggy environment, the moisture will not evaporate so
cooling does not happen well. I cool with the coldest water I can
find and will use ice depending on the situation. The best way is to
run water over the dog, so there is always fresh water in contact.
When you immerse a dog in a tub, the water trapped in the hair coat
will get warm next to the dog, and act as an insulator against the
cool water and cooling stops. If you can run water over the dog and
place it in front of a fan that is the best.
Misting the dog with water will only help if you are in a dry
environment or in front of a fan. Just getting the dog wet is not
the point, you want the water to be cool itself, or to evaporate.
For MOST situations all you will need to do is get the dog in a
cooler environment, i.e. shade, or in the cab of the truck with the
air conditioning on (driving around so the truck does not overheat
and the AC is more efficient). Up to a couple of years ago, I was
very concerned about my dogs getting too hot in the back of my black
pickup with a black cap. New white truck fixed a lot of that
problem. When I had one dog I just pulled the wire crate out of the
car and put it in some shade and hopefully a breeze. But having 2
dogs and running from one stake to another, that was not feasible.
So I built a platform to put the wire crates on, this raises the dog
up in the truck box where the air flow is better. Then I placed a 3
speed box fan in front blowing on the dogs with a foot of space to
allow better airflow. I purchased a power inverter that connects to
the battery and allows the 3 speed fan to run from the truck power.
It has an automatic feature that prevents it from draining the
battery. When I turned that fan on medium I would find that the dogs
where asleep, breathing slowly and appeared very relaxed and
comfortable in a matter of 20 minutes or less, even on very hot
Alcohol: I do carry it for emergencies. It is very effective at
cooling due to the rapid evaporation. It should be used when other
methods are not working. You should be on your way to the
veterinarian before you get to this point. We recommend using
rubbing alcohol, which is isopropyl alcohol, not ethyl, for those of
you not aware. So do not try to drink it.
Alcohol should be used on the pads and lower feet area where there
is little more than skin and blood vessels over the bones. Use a
little bit and let it evaporate, you can use too much as some is
absorbed through the skin. There are concerns about toxicity, but
you have to get the temperature down.
UPDATE NOTE - alcohol has fallen out of favor with ER specialists, use
it only as a last ditch effort if nothing else works.
I purchased those cooling pads, but found that the dogs would not
lay on them. I would hold them on the back of a dog that just worked
to get a quick cool, but have not use them for years. I also bought
a pair of battery operated fans but found them pretty useless. Spend
your money on the power inverter and get a real fan.
Watching temperature: If you feel your dog is in danger of heat
injury, check its temp and write it down. Keep checking the temp
every 3 minutes. I recommend to get a "rectal glass thermometer. The
digital ones for the drugstore I have found to be very unreliable.
Don't forget to shake it down completely each time, sounds silly,
but when are worried about your companion, things tend to get mixed
This is VERY IMPORTANT**once the temp STARTS to drop, STOP ALL
COOLING EFFORTS. The cooling process will continue even though you
have stopped. If the temp starts at 106.5, and then next time it
drops to 105.5, stop cooling the dog, dry it off, and continue
monitoring. You will be amazed how it continues to go down. If you
do not stop until the temp is 102, the temp will drop way too low. I
cannot emphasize this point enough.
When the dog is so heated that it is panting severely, only let it
have a few laps of water. Water in the stomach does not cool the
dog, you just need to keep the mouth wet so the panting is more
effective. Do not worry about dehydration until the temp has started
down. A dog panting heavily taking in large amounts of water is at
risk of bloat. Due to the heavy panting they will swallow air, mixed
with a large amount of water they can bloat. Once the temp is going
down and panting has slowed to more normal panting then allow water.
The dog will rehydrate it self after temp is normal. If the dog
has a serious problem and even though you have gotten the temp
normal, get the dog to a vet, as it can still need IV fluids and
some medication. Also, a case of heat stroke can induce a case of
hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (not parvo), with a ton of very bloody
diarrhea and a lot of fluid and electrolyte loss. These cases need
The best method of treatment is prevention. Learn to watch your dog,
and see the changes in the size of the tongue, and how quickly it
goes down. Learn your dogs response to the different environments,
and be careful when you head south for an early season hunt test or
trial. I have been to Nashville at the end of May, only 5 hours
away, but the difference in temp and humidity did affect the dogs as
they were used to more spring weather in Ohio. Try different things
in training to help the dog cool and learn what works better.
Another very important point==> Do not swim your hot dog to cool it
then put in put in a box/tight crate. Remember, evaporation can not
take place in a tight space, and the box will turn into a sauna and
you will cook your dog. Carry a stake out chain, and let the dog
cool and dry before putting it up.
I know this is a bit long, but hopefully this is easy to understand
and helps provide some useful information.
Remember: Prevention, learn your dog. It is worth the time and
Nate Baxter, DVM