Heat stress is two things: deadly and preventable


Be sure to download this week's freebie! A heat stress symptoms flow chart! Click here to access it. 


Okay guys, it is that time of year again and we are talking heat stress. The weather is warming up!

So, let’s talk heat related injuries, aka: heat stress, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.

By now you know that we have a passion for prevention. Prevention is the backbone of everything we teach.  And heat stress is 100 percent preventable.

So, I wanted to address this today and talk about heat stress prevention and how your dog might have certain characteristics that put him at a higher risk for experiencing heat stress.

I had a really good question a few months ago- and that was: “… what are early signs that they (the dog) might be done hiking in the heat. And does this effect older dogs earlier? Do they lose the ability to cool themselves as they age?” – Thank you Hannah!

So by in large, yes, certain dogs will have a predisposition to heat stress. Let’s talk about why that is.

The answer is loaded - as it always is with medicine! But I wanted to break this down for you in a way that is easily understood. If you understand how dogs cool themselves, you understand why certain dogs are more predisposed to heat stress.  So cooling methods are physical (think panting)- but they are also physiological- which means there is a deeper bodily process going on. Bear with me here I promise to make it super easy simple!


Part one: Physical cooling

ie panting, body type, coat type,  (basically doggy DNA)

Dogs use panting as their number one method of active cooling. Yes, they do sweat through their paws, but this cooling method is minimal compared to the ability to pant. In fact, the majority of your dog’s water loss comes from panting.

No other species can make open mouth breathing look so good! Haha!

Think about it this way: that condensation and dampness that accumulates on your car window when your dog is panting while looking out the window? That moisture on the window is the water loss that is comparable to us sweating.

Smashed face breeds (we call them brachycephalic in the biz) simply cannot cool themselves as effectively because their anatomy deters this. Their smushed faces usually mean narrowed windpipes- meaning they cannot pant as effectively since air gets blocked or trapped by the narrowed airway.

But genetic predisposition to heat stress doesn’t always just come from anatomical differences. Certain breeds despite the anatomy of their upper airways are better at tolerating the heat. Think of a Greyhound vs a Siberian husky running trail in 80-degree weather. The Greyhound is probably better equipped to handle this scenario. Also keep in mind that overweight dogs will be more predisposed to heat exhaustion.


Part two: Physiological cooling

“heat shock proteins”

Our dog's bodies naturally produce a molecule called a heat shock protein. I am not going to get super in depth or science geek out on this- promise! But a heat shock protein is a protein that helps your dog manage his internal or core temperature. The more heat shock proteins your dog has built up- the more capable he is of cooling himself and managing his internal body temperature- thus, decreasing chances of heat stress.  

We suspect that dogs with certain genetics might naturally make more of these heat shock proteins.

We also suspect that the gradual conditioning of your dog to tolerate warmer climates can lead to an increase in heat shock proteins.  

Finally, to answer Hannah’s question- we suspect that as dogs age they might not be able to make these proteins as efficiently. Leading to less control over their core body temperature and increasing their risks of heat stroke.


A quick summary:

Older dogs, brachycephalic dogs, your dog’s DNA, his conditioning, and his body condition score could potentially put him at a higher risk for heatstroke due to anatomy, body type,  and the ability to produce the heat shock proteins.


How do we prevent this?

The take away here is: no matter what kind of dog you have and no matter his age is it is very important to condition them to acclimate to warmer climates and do so gradually. All the while ensuring that they are at a healthy body weight.

Don’t only consider the temperature, but also consider the radiant heat (think sun exposure), the moisture or humidity in the air, and the air movement.

Once someone asked me: “what do I do for a dog who is having a heat stroke.”

Well the blunt answer is to avoid it from happening in the first place. Acclimate your dog, offer him lots of water, and take frequent breaks. Pay close attention to the mild signs of heat stress so that you can take a break and cool him down before going any further. These mild symptoms aren’t always obvious, either, so definitely keep that in mind. If you notice mild symptoms of heat stress stop immediately in shade and offer water.

Also, go slower and keep hikes shorter in the summer months to be safe. Especially if you have a thick coated breed, a short-nosed breed, or a senior pup.

And a friendly reminder that frequent hydration and rest breaks are paramount. Offer water frequently and take breaks in the shade if possible.

And if you haven’t already access this handy flow chart for reference. Because once a dog is showing full-blown symptoms of a true heat stroke – it might already be too late and you need to seek veterinary care as soon as humanly possible.

So, I hope this was helpful. Not to sound like a broken record but first educate yourself on the symptoms and prevention tactics when it comes to heat stroke – and always error on the side of caution. If you think it is too warm for your pup to hike either go very early in the morning, later in the evening, cut it short, or keep him at home in the air conditioning.

And per usual if you all have any questions never hesitate to reach out.

Until next time, get out and explore more with your dog!

Libbie Fort, DVM


P.S. Don't forget to download this quick cheat sheet for heat stress symptoms! Click here

1 comment

Hannah Dwyer

Thanks so much for addressing this and as we have two seniors and one of them heavy coated our summer hikes will now be very early morning and much shorter! Also going to head to the forest – catch those shady trails whenever possible. Just keeping my eyes peeled for their behavior from the norm, usually a leader of the pack, when our big guy hangs back he might not be comfortable……know the norm:-)

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