Outdoors Blog

Know the signs of heat stroke in your dog — and key steps you can take to prevent it

The heat-related death of a bulldog in the Boise Foothills on Saturday brought attention to a common yet often-overlooked problem for dogs: heat stroke.

Dr. Jessica Loweth, an emergency veterinarian at All Valley Animal Care Center in Meridian, already has seen four dogs this summer with heat stroke. Dogs only sweat through their toe pads, which makes it more difficult for them to cool off than humans.

“It tends to become a very, very big problem that a lot of people don’t even recognize,” Loweth said. “They’ll see that their dogs are panting a lot but don’t actually recognize that the body temperature is going up quite a bit, especially for black dogs and really dark brown dogs.”

David Gordon, manager of the Ridge to Rivers trail system, posted news of the bulldog’s death on the Boise Foothills Trail Conditions Facebook page on Monday morning to raise awareness of the dangers. The dog died after being taken to a veterinarian, Gordon said.

“It’s not uncommon,” Gordon said of heat stroke in a dog. “It’s a rare day that I actually hear of a dog dying.”

Here are some tips from Gordon and local veterinarians to prevent heat stroke and identify the symptoms in your dog:

Is your dog a trail dog? Many dogs will run for miles — but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy for them. “Short-faced dogs,” like bulldogs and Boston terriers, are particularly susceptible to heat stroke, said Dr. Victoria Ochoa, who specializes in internal medicine at WestVet in Garden City. Those breeds, Ochoa said, have “tiny nostrils and they also have tiny airways.” Said Gordon: “If you’re going out for a 5-mile bike ride or trail run, make sure your dog is up for doing the same thing. People assume dogs can follow them. You do see times where the dog is not in the same shape as their owner.”

“What you need, your dog needs.” Dogs need shade, water and rest on the trail — just like you do. But don’t think of the dog as another adult, Ochoa said. “Like a toddler,” she said. “If you are sweating, your dog could possibly be in trouble. We know there are some really active dogs that go along and can run us to the ground in stable weather and we’re sweating and they’re OK. But as a rule of thumb, if you’re starting to really sweat, your dog could be in danger. And don’t go by your dog’s eagerness. It’s like a 2-year-old. Your 2-year-old may want to be with you all day but then when they get too tired you pay for it in tantrums. In your dog, you may pay for it by your dog dying.”

“Dogs don’t make it easy for us.” “They will over-exercise themselves into a crisis sometimes before you know about it,” Ochoa said. “... They keep up with us as long as they possibly can and then they’ll collapse.” A normal temperature for a dog is 100 to 102 degrees. Ochoa has seen dogs with temperatures too high to read (above 110). At that point, “the body starts to break down because the cells have been heated, they’ve been cooked too much,” she said.

Rapid, uncontrolled panting is a sign of trouble. “They have to stop panting in order to take a full, deep breath,” Loweth said. “When they’re panting, they’re just moving air through their trachea to cool themselves down. They’re not actually breathing well. Rapid panting is probably No. 1.” The second sign is a very weak, very tired dog, she said. The tongue and gums might turn bright red, pale or other colors instead of pink. The saliva could thicken and the dog could get the “drunken sailor walk” — nearly falling over. Vomiting and diarrhea could follow, and even sudden death. If you see any of these signs, take the dog to a vet, Loweth said. Sometimes there are other internal issues you won’t notice. To cool your dog down, use lukewarm water. Cold water is counterproductive when a dog is overheating, she said.

Bring fresh water with you. Foothills creeks can be unreliable because many of them dry up in the heat of summer. Plus, creeks and lakes can spread illnesses. “A creek that’s moving is a little better,” Loweth said. “But most of the people aren’t going to be drinking directly from the creek. If the creek water is not good enough for you, why is it good enough for your dog?” Also know what and how your dog will drink. “I’ve known dogs that will drink from your CamelBak when you squirt it at them,” Ochoa said, “and I’ve known dogs that will only drink from their own little bowl.”

Trails to try in the heat. In his Facebook post, Gordon recommended some trails that offer shade: Gold Finch, Owl’s Roost and The Grove in Lower Hulls Gulch, Cottonwood Creek in Military Reserve and Five Mile Gulch in Rocky Canyon. Ochoa suggests traveling a bit farther. “Maybe it’s time to go up to Bogus Basin,” she said.

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