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Heat Stroke and Water Toxicity

Keep cool this summer!
Keep cool this summer!
Mike Martin

With summer in full swing, dog owners should be well aware of two possible dangers lurking around the hot summer afternoons: heat stroke and water toxicity. While one is a lack of water that leads to rising body temperature, the other is too much water in too short a time, leading to an imbalance in the salts and electrolytes in a dog’s body. Both can be fatal, and both are most likely to happen during the dog days of summer.

Heat Stroke:

The signs of heat stroke, especially in dogs, can be fairly subtle at first, especially since there are breeds of dogs that are so focused on playing or working that they will ignore their own body’s signals that they need to, literally, take a chill break.

Owners are likely to be familiar with their dog panting in hot weather. However, if the dog is panting heavily and the tongue and gums are red (the gums can also be a pale whitish-grey), it is time to get the dog to a cooler place and offer some water. Increased salivation, or thick, sticky saliva are both things to monitor. If heat stroke progresses, symptoms such as muscle weakness, lethargy, dizziness (which can manifest itself as falling or stumbling), and finally diarrhea (sometimes with blood) and vomiting can happen. Without immediate intervention, heat stroke can cause permanent damage or death.

If heat stroke is suspected, it is paramount the owner get the animal into a shady area, or inside an air conditioned building. Use wash cloths soaked in cool (not cold) water on the inner thighs and foot pads. Offer small amounts of cool water at first until the dog stabilizes. If possible always keep a bowl of water during outside playtime to avoid dehydration.

Water Toxicity

This is a less common occurrence but is still dangerous. Water toxicity is when a dog (or human) drinks a large amount of water at one time. The water throws off the delicate balance of salts and electrolytes in the body causing a lack of coordination, vomiting, excess salivation, dilated pupils and glazed eyes. Usually, the body will self correct the imbalance by eliminating the extra water through urination, but sometimes there is just too much water imbibed in too short a period of time.

But it is not always drinking water that can cause toxicity. Dogs that like to play in water, perhaps playing fetch by jumping in the water and retrieving a toy or by biting at the hose spraying water, can inadvertently swallow more of the wet stuff than intended. Both of these situations are easily corrected by using flat, floating, toys when playing fetch in the water so that the dog’s mouth is closed when swimming back to shore. Limiting playtime with the hose is also a good idea.