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Pet health: How to identify, prevent, and treat canine heat stroke

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It's almost summertime again. And many of you will be taking vacations and planning outdoor activities that include the canine members of your family. But just like humans, dogs can become overheated. Do you know the warning signs of canine heat stroke?

How dogs stay cool

Humans are equipped with sweat glands to stay cool. However for the most part, dogs don't sweat. Instead, they rely on panting to exchange warm air from their bodies for cooler external air.

When the mercury begins to climb outside, any exercise - even a simple walk - can make it difficult for dogs to cool off. Short-nosed breeds such as bulldogs, Pekingese, and boxers are especially at risk for heat stroke because their anatomy allows for a less efficient cooling-off exchange.

Preventing canine heat exhaustion

There are many things that dog owners can do in the way of prevention to avoid canine heat stroke. First off, if your dog is an outside dog, make sure that they have access to plenty of shade and fresh, cool water. Dog runs and tie-downs can be problematic because shade can diminish or disappear with the changing position of the sun throughout the day. If your dog is in danger of not being able to lie down in the shade, consider installing a large shade umbrella. It's a good idea to also have extra bowls of water and even a children's wading pool.

In addition to making sure your dog stays cool at home, it's important to plan ahead when taking your dog with you on summertime outings such as baseball games, beach excursions, or hikes. Be sure to bring extra gallon jugs of water, towels, coolers full of ice, and shade umbrellas. No matter how much fun you are having, stop every 15 minutes or so for a water and rest break.

Symptoms of heat stroke

If your dog begins to exhibit any of the following signs, it's important to act quickly:

· Rapid or excessive panting
· Vomiting or diarrhea
· Unstable or shaky gait
· Hot and dry nose

At the first sign of overheating, move your dog to an air-conditioned building or to a shady spot at the very least. Immerse the dog in cool water if possible. If immersion is not possible, cool the underside of the dog's body by way of garden hose, water buckets, or wet towels. Target the groin area, the armpit area, and the pads of the feet for more rapid cooling results. Offer water to drink, but don't allow gulping as this may cause vomiting and further loss of hydration. If possible, take the dog's temperature rectally. The normal body temperature for a canine is 100-103 degrees. Anything over that is cause for concern. When the dog's temperature is within the normal range, stop the cooling process and let the dog rest. Further cooling efforts may cause the dog to go into shock.

Understanding how heat stroke can affect dogs will help you protect your canine friend during the hot summer months. If your dog starts showing signs of heat stroke, it's important to act fast. If symptoms persist, contact your veterinarian immediately.

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