Just as it can be with humans, hyperthermia, or heat stroke, can be a very serious and potentially life-threatening problem. All warm-blooded mammals produce natural body heat which is dissipated in a number of ways. Humans dissipate heat by sweating, which helps keep the body’s core temperature at about 98.6 ° Fahrenheit. As many people know, dogs cannot sweat, but instead dissipate heat through panting. A healthy dog’s core body temperature should be between 101 ° and 102.5 ° F. In all mammals, once the core body temperature rises above a certain point, damage can occur to the brain and other organs, resulting in heat stroke. For canines, a core body temperature of 105 ° F or higher is enough to cause serious problems.
There are a number of reasons why a dog may be unable to properly dissipate heat. For dogs with an undercoat, such as the German Shepherd, failure to properly brush and remove the loose undercoat as the warmer seasons come can put your dog at risk. Walking on dark asphalt on a hot day can also raise your dog’s core temperature considerably, as the heat from the ground is radiating directly towards the chest and abdomen of your canine. Working protection dogs and police dogs are at even greater risk due to higher levels of exertion combined with activities such as tracking that require your dog’s mouth to remain closed, thus preventing proper heat dissipation through panting. Lack of proper hydration, as well as muzzles or anything else that may prevent proper panting can leave your dog at risk for heat stroke as well. Finally, never leave your dog unattended in a vehicle. Even on a relatively mild day, the temperature inside your vehicle can quickly raise to dangerous levels.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke, there are a number of indicators to look out for. Frantic panting, rapid heart beat, dizziness and staggering, refusal to obey commands, inability to sit up or stand, and collapse or unconsciousness are all signs of potential heat stroke. In the event that your dog is suffering from hyperthermia, your first action should be to cool the dog down by whatever means necessary, be they water, air conditioning or even ice packs. Immersing or dousing your dog in cool water is an excellent way to cool it down, but avoid cold water, as the drastic change in temperature can be a shock to the dog’s system and produce further complications. If you have a thermometer on hand, keep track of your dog’s temperature. Once it drops back down to about 103 ° F you should discontinue cooling and head immediately to your veterinarian, or the nearest veterinary hospital. If no thermometer is available, look for other signs that your dog’s core temperature has dropped, such as a reduced panting and distress.
In almost all cases, heat stroke is preventable. Proper grooming, hydration and care are all it takes to keep your protection dog or guard dog cool and healthy on a hot day.