What to Do if your Dog Get's Heat Stroke on the Trail

Summer is finally here! With the longer days, comes the warmth of the sun and access to trails and adventures we've been lusting after all winter.  Nothing makes an outdoor adventure more fun than experiencing it with your dog.  On the same note, nothing can ruin it faster than your beloved best friend getting injured and not being prepared or having any idea of how to help them. There are several common injuries your dog can suffer from on the trail however, one of them tops the list as being quietly lethal if unnoticed and untreated.  Learning to recognize the signs and how to deal with it, could save your buddy's life.  In this post we'll cover what it is, how to identify it, prevent it, and treat it.  

HEATSTROKE.  

Heatstroke occurs when your dog (or cat) can no longer regulate their normal internal body temperature between 99.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  If exposed to heat for long periods of time or activities that raise their body temperature such as hiking, running, and playing without access to water and the ability to cool themselves off, things can turn into a serious veterinary emergency very quickly.  

Neither dogs nor cats have the ability to sweat so, they dissipate heat by fluffing their fur to circulate cool air to the skin and dispersing some heat through the pads of their feet.  Dogs use panting as their primary method of cooling themselves while cats typically will lick themselves to create an evaporation effect.  If a cat is panting, it's a good indication that they're already overwhelmed by the heat.  

Body temperature between 104 to 105 degrees is considered moderate heat stroke but temperatures above 105 degrees can be deadly.  The key to managing either is to prevent it from happening in the first place.  However, in the event that it happens, having the right gear in your dog first aid kit and knowing how to use it can be life saving.  

Prevention: 

Before tackling a long hike after a fairly inactive winter or if your pup is new to hiking, make sure your four legged partner is up for it! If your pup isn't accustomed to hiking at all, slowly introducing them to the terrain with shorter distances will give him or her time to acclimate both physiologically as well as building up the resiliency of their paw pads.  Building up their endurance along with your own can be a great fitness journey together! DON'T be that pet parent that blindly believes dogs are pre-packaged athletes year round!  If your dog is an apartment dwelling companion that doesn't get much more than an occasional jog in the park or a 30 minute walk every day, you can't expect them to hike to the top of a mountain with you the first time out.  While they're likely more fit than you, they STILL need you to exercise some brain cells to keep them safe.  

TIPS TO AVOID HEAT STROKE

  • Pay attention to your dog!! 
  • Hike in the cooler parts of the day
  • Avoid hiking on days when the air temp is equal to or higher than their normal temp (99-102.5)
  • Allow for frequent water breaks
  • Find shade and/or a safe, natural water source for them to dip their paws in when possible
  • Let them rest and catch their breath (it's no different than you needing a break)
  • Pack some energizing, organic treats for them to munch on (super simple and quick recipes here)

THINGS TO KEEP IN YOUR DOG FIRST AID KIT FOR HEAT STROKE:

  • Instant Ice Packs
  • Camp towels
  • Cold water
  • Thermometer/vasoline
  • Karo syrup or honey (for shock)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Rehydration fluid (Pedialyte or Gatorade)
  • Blanket (for shock/temps below 100*)
  • Small, battery operated fan
  • Shade tarp

SIGNS OF HEATSTROKE: MODERATE AND LIFE THREATENING

Moderate Heat Stroke:  (most pets can recover within an hour if given prompt first aid)

  • Bright red tongue and gums
  • Thick and sticky saliva
  • Rapid panting
  • Body temp of 104F-106F
  • Can quickly turn into a life threatening situation if not addressed immediately

Life Threatening Heat Stroke:

  • Pale gums
  • Showing signs of weakness and dizziness
  • Bloody nose
  • Bloody vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Shock
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Failure of kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, or brain
  • Body temps 106F+ 
  • Will result in death without immediate first aid and veterinary intervention

WHAT TO DO (WHEN YOUR MILES AWAY FROM VETERINARY CARE)

If you suspect your dog is showing signs of heat stroke, immediately bring him or her into a cooler, shaded environment (if possible) and assess the severity of the situation.  If no natural shade is available, quickly set up your shade tarp.  

  1. Immediately offer him or her water to drink while retrieving the thermometer, ice packs, camp towels, and small fan from your first aid kit.
  2. Take his/her temperature. (Monitor it every 5 mins. Temps of 104-106=moderate. Temps 106+=Life threatening)
  3. Soak the camp towels with cool water and place them on your dogs neck, head, and body
  4.  Place the ice packs in his/her armpits and groin.  Also place them on his or her head if their temp is at 106 or higher.  
  5. Reassess temp every 5 minutes.  
  6. Fan the soaked towels with your t-shirt or even better, the battery operated fan.
  7. Continue to offer more drinking water and add a capful of Pedialyte or Gatorade if his/her temps are above 105
  8. Stop the cooling process when their temperature reaches 103 degrees so that they don't become chilled.  (If you've cooled them off and their temp is below 100, wrap them in a blanket to ward off shock) 
  9. In the event that your dog becomes unconscious, rub the contents of a small honey pack on their gums to help with their fallen blood sugar. 
  10. Be prepared to perform CPR if he or she stops breathing

Don't know animal First Aid & CPR?  Be the first to find out when our Wilderness Animal FuRst Responder Course is available!