There’s no better feeling than going for a training run with your dog—especially when he’s roaming free, loving every minute, and mopping up your sweat with his licks post-workout! But while your pup is your top fan and loyal supporter, he’s also vulnerable to heat and humidity. In fact, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are frighteningly common among canines in the summer, according to Dr. Abby Huggins of Intown Animal Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.
Signs your dog has heat stroke and you need to get to the vet n-o-w include vomiting, diarrhea (potentially with blood), lack of consciousness, rapid heart rate, and muscle tremors or seizures. Heat exhaustion, however, is the prelude to heat stroke, and it’s no joke either: “If it progresses to heatstroke we’ve got a serious problem,” says Dr. Huggins. How serious, exactly? “There’s a fifty percent mortality rate in dogs who get heat stroke.” That’s because when a dog’s body temperature gets that hot, he’s not able to properly deliver oxygen to his tissues—which can lead to multi-organ failure.
It doesn’t take hours and hours in the heat for either of these heat-induced ailments to befall your buddy, says Dr. Huggins. “In high humidity and heat, and without proper precautions, heat exhaustion can come on quick.” Some sources suggest it can take as little as 30 minutes.
Even the healthiest dogs are susceptible, but “being overweight, ill-conditioned, on an unbalanced diet, or otherwise unhealthy absolutely increases the risk,” Dr. Huggins warns. For an easy-enough swap that’ll boost your dog’s overall health status, she suggests feeding him a protein-rich kibble (like Nulo). It promotes lean body bass, fighting pet-obesity—and all the health issues associated with it.
Good news: “It’s not that pet owners need to avoid being outside with their dog completely, but they do need to be smart about it,” she says. To help your pooch enjoy the dog days unscathed, offer water frequently, head for shade, allow him to swim in clean water nearby, and be wise to any signs of trouble. Respond quickly to any of these subtle signs of overheating.
Overheating Alert #1: Heavy Panting
We humans, of course, cool ourselves off by sweating. Dogs don’t have that ability. Instead, they pant, says Dr. Huggins. “It helps circulate air through their body.” Typically, this is effective but, “there’s a threshold at which dogs can’t cool themselves off any faster even if their bodies are demanding it.” If your pet is panting excessively, it’s a sign they’re overheating.
Overheating Alert #2: Seeming Dazed
This symptom is easily overlooked, but if your dog seems less responsive to your commands or praise, or appears glassy-eyed, she’s experiencing the early stages of being overheated, says Dr. Huggins. So, if it’s hot out and you think Vinny is being uncharacteristically disobedient, consider whether the heat could be to blame.
Overheating Alert #3: Thick Drool
In canines and humans, heat exhaustion and dehydration often go hand-in-hand. Panting excessively can result in too much water loss—especially if your dog isn’t not rehydrating properly. “Often, dogs who are overheated will drool excessively, and the drool itself will look thicker and more tenuous than usual,” says Dr. Huggins. That’s because there’s less fluid in the body to ‘contribute’ to said spit.
Overheating Alert #4: Dark Pee
It’s not exactly easy to gauge your sidekick’s urine color, especially when he’s going in the grass. But Dr. Huggins says the same color scale that applies to humans, applies to dogs. “Ideally you want it to be clear,” she says. If you can’t see the output, a good rule of thumb is to make sure your dog is taking in fluids every 25 to 30 minutes. If not and he’s experiencing any of the other symptoms on this list, consider moving your pet to a place where he can cool off and rehydrate.
Overheating Alert #5: Gums and Tongue Are Darker Than Usual
Don’t be shy about getting in there and looking at your buddy’s tongue and gums. “Injected membranes— which means that their gums or tongue are a really bright red—are a sign they’re really struggling in the heat,” says Dr. Huggins.
If the gums are darker, like a bluish or dark purple color, “That’s cyanosis, and at this point we’re past the point of needing to be at the vet.” Translation: Get your dog out of the heat and to the vet ASAP.
The Bottom Line
Your pooch is more than welcome to spectate or participate in Spartan events. But doing what you can to reduce your pet’s risk of overheating on event day is a must. “Remember, if your favorite cheerleader isn’t having a good day because he isn’t feeling well, you’re ultimately not going to either,” says Dr. Huggins. “They’re your best friend, afterall.” True that.