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Keeping Your Senior Dog Safe from Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.

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Mature German Shepherd laying on ground

During the scorching summer days, our senior dogs face the possibility of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It's heartbreaking to witness a senior dog struggling to cool down, panting and distressed, and urgently needing assistance.

In this #lifewitholddogs blog, we will explore the science behind canine thermoregulation, which is the biological mechanism responsible for maintaining a steady internal body temperature, and practical strategies for rapidly but safely lowering your senior dog's body temperature in emergencies, which can keep your senior dog safe from heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

From understanding the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke to implementing quick cooling methods, you'll be equipped with the essential knowledge to become your senior dog's hero when it matters most. Let's get to it!

Understanding Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in Older Dogs

Beautiful long coat german shepherd

Dogs have a unique way of regulating their body temperature as they do not sweat like humans. Instead, they rely on panting, sweating through their paw pads and noses to release heat. When they cannot cool themselves down adequately, their internal body temperature starts to increase, leading to a condition known as heat exhaustion and then heat stroke or hyperthermia. Heat exhaustion in dogs occurs when a dog's body temperature surpasses the typical range of 101.5 F (39.4 C). This is the initial phase of overheating, which may advance to heat stroke if not addressed. The key distinguishing factor between the two conditions lies in body temperature, with heat exhaustion typically occurring at approximately 103 degrees Fahrenheit, while heat stroke sets in at 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

canine heat exhaustion and heat stroke

As dogs age, their ability to regulate body temperature decreases. This occurs as their cardiovascular and respiratory systems may weaken, resulting in increased difficulty dissipating excess heat. Consequently, senior dogs are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke during the hotter months of the year.

Additionally, certain health-related issues can also contribute to heat exhaustion and heat stroke in our frosty-muzzled fur friends. For instance, senior dogs may face challenges in accessing cooler areas or accessing water bowls due to issues with reduced mobility, such as osteoarthritis or degenerative myelopathy. This is why we always have a water bowl right next to a sanctuary resident with mobility issues. It should be evident that if a senior dog doesn't walk well or has trouble getting up, it may not drink water as often as it should because it can't get to it.

Tip: To encourage drinking in senior dogs, try a water fountain in addition to a water bowl. We find the sanctuary residents are attracted to the sound of running water and prefer the fountain over water bowls. Here is what we have >>

Furthermore, having pre-existing health issues such as heart disease, respiratory disorders, and laryngeal paralysis can heighten the susceptibility to heatstroke.

And let's not overlook the effects of certain drugs, like diuretics and Trazadone, which may also impact a senior dog's capacity to control body temperature. This is one of the many reasons to be aware of the side effects of the medications your senior dog is taking.


* High humidity can impede senior dogs' ability to regulate their body temperature by panting, raising the likelihood of heat stroke......I'm looking at you, Pennsylvania, queen of summertime high humidity! *

In case you didn't know, dogs pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which helps reduce their body temperature. However, when the air is saturated with moisture, panting becomes less effective.

Heat stroke can strike suddenly and without much warning in senior dogs. Once the symptoms of heat exhaustion are noticed, there is only a small window of time before they progress into heat stroke.

And then time is of the essence!

When a senior dog has heat exhaustion or heat stroke, it can lead to serious health issues such as dehydration, organ damage, and even death.

How to Avoid Canine Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

One key aspect of preventing canine heat exhaustion and heat stroke is to be mindful of the temperature and avoid strenuous activities during the hottest parts of the day. Additionally, providing ample access to fresh water, cooling treats such as our frosty blueberry treats >> and shade is essential in helping your older dog stay cool and hydrated. Or better yet, keep them in the air conditioning and only take them out for short leg stretches and potty breaks during the hottest times of the day.

It's also important to remember that some dogs, like those with a thick double coat or darker coat, are more susceptible to heat-related issues, so understanding your older dog's individual needs is crucial in keeping them safe during hot weather.

Another effective way to prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke in senior dogs is to never leave them in parked cars, even for just a few minutes. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, this is one of the leading causes of heat stroke in dogs. The temperature inside a car can rise rapidly, leading to dangerous heat levels for your senior dog or any pet!

Furthermore, you can help your senior dog stay cool by using cooling mats designed specifically for dogs. These devices allow senior dogs to regulate their body temperature more effectively. The residents here at the sanctuary love their cooling mats!

And if your old pup is up for it, letting them play in a pool, splash pad, or body of water for a little bit throughout the day will help them beat the heat, get some exercise, and get mental stimulation! But don't have them out there for too long, folks.

We like these splash pads, cooling mats, and pools >>

By taking these simple yet proactive measures, you can safeguard your older dog from the risks associated with overheating during summer months.

Signs and Symptoms of Canine Heat exhaustion & Heat Stroke

  • Excessive panting and drooling

  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing/difficulty breathing

  • Gums and Tongue that are bright red, purple, blue, or even gray.

  • Weakness or lethargy

  • Vomiting or diarrhea

  • Skin that's hot to touch

  • Muscle tremors

  • Dizziness or stumbling

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Temperature hirer that 102.2 F

  • Changes in blood pressure

  • Collapse

Action to take if Your Older Dog has Heat Stroke

1. Remove the dog from the heat source and relocate them to a cooler area with proper ventilation, such as a room with air conditioning or in front of a fan.

2. Lower the dog's body temperature by wetting them with cool or room temperature water, avoiding their face. You can also place damp cloths or towels on their neck, armpits, or hind legs. Using a fan to blow over their wet skin can aid in cooling. Avoid using ice as it may lead to shock and hypothermia.

** Wet towels should be placed UNDER a dog with heat stroke and never over the dog. This will only TRAP THE HEAT in your dog.

3. Offer the dog small amounts of cool water every few minutes without forcing them to drink.

4. Check the dog's temperature using either a rectal thermometer or an armpit thermometer, ensuring proper lubrication for insertion if using a rectal thermometer. We use this type of thermometer >>

5. If the dog's condition does not improve promptly or if you are unable to take its temperature, seek immediate veterinary assistance. While en route to the vet,

employ the same lifesaving techniques listed above.

In closing, should your older dog, or any pet for that matter, display symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, it is crucial to take them to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic promptly. Heat stroke can advance quickly, and basic first aid at home cannot replace professional veterinary attention. While it may seem instinctual to try cooling down your old dog on your own, doing so could overlook potential serious complications like organ damage, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance, potentially leading to shock in your dog.


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