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Posted on 08-14-2015

By Meredith Brassette, DVM

With temperatures getting as high as 107° F lately in Flower Mound, heat stroke is a topic that should be in the back of everybody’s mind. Any dog can suffer from problems associated with heatstroke, but some dogs such as brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds are even more predisposed to this condition. Why are they so prone to this? What are the signs that your pet is suffering from heat stroke? And what can you do to prevent it?

Let’s start with why dogs, specifically brachycephalic breeds like the English bulldog, pug, and Boston terrier, are so prone to heat stroke. People are able to cool themselves down by sweating through their skin. Dogs are able to sweat a little through their paws, but they do not sweat through their skin to cool down. They cool themselves down by panting, which evaporates water from their tongues to help prevent overheating.

Brachycephalic breeds are known for having very narrow tracheas (airways.) This condition is called tracheal hypoplasia. It inhibits their panting so they are not able to efficiently cool down. We often say that breathing for brachycephalic breeds would be like you breathing through a straw—very difficult to do efficiently! These short-nosed breeds also have very narrow nostrils, which can make it hard for brachycephalic breeds to breathe through their noses. Surgery is sometimes an option to enlarge the nostrils in order to improve breathing and quality of life for our patients.

When brachycephalic breeds try to cool down by panting, they actually end up working harder and generating more heat as they try to move the air through those tiny nostrils and trachea. Dr. Tony Johnson, a veterinary emergency specialist, compares this problem to having a coal-fired air conditioner in your house. “When the house gets warm, the A/C kicks on, but the heat from the coal fire would make the house warmer.”

It is vital that all dogs, but especially brachycephalic breeds, are kept in a cool environment to avoid overheating and are only let out into the heat for short periods of time.

What are the signs of heat stroke?

  • Dark or bright red tongue and gums
  • Sticky or dry tongue and gums
  • Loud, raspy breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Explosive diarrhea
  • Inability to stand
  • Stupor, seizures

What do I do if I think my dog is suffering from heat stroke?

  • Get your dog out of the heat!
  • Douse your pet in cool water (not ice water as it will constrict blood vessels and impede cooling)
  • Place cold wet cloths on the feet and around the head
  • Offer ice cubes/water to drink
  • Get your pet to your veterinarian ASAP. A few minutes can be the difference between life and death.

Prevention is key! Keep your dog in a cool environment and always watch out for signs of heat stroke. Please call 972-355-0008 with any questions about this condition.

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