Be alert to the signs of heatstroke

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2012, 12:00am


Heatstroke in dogs is especially common in the summer months, although it can occur at any time, as Hong Kong's temperature rarely drops too low.

'Dogs do not sweat through their skin like humans, but rather expel heat by panting, and sweating through the foot pads and nose,' explains Jane Gray, chief veterinary surgeon at the Hong Kong Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

'If a dog cannot effectively release heat, the internal body temperature rises and results in damage to cells and organs - the heart, brain, lungs and kidneys. Some dogs can recover fully from heatstroke if caught early enough. Many others do not.'

Prevention is far better than recovery, so here are some tips for keeping your canine cool.

'Don't walk dogs at noon. Especially those with flat noses - Pugs, Pekingese, Shih Tzu and Bulldogs,' says Polly Lam, of Petworld kennels in Yuen Long. Petworld has a dogs-only swimming pool which is understandably popular in the summer.

'Avoid vigorous exercise on warm or humid days, and never force your dog to exercise with a tight muzzle,' Gray says. 'Some muzzles impede the ability to pant and your dog will quickly overheat.

'Have chilled drinking water available at all times. Carrying a lightweight-material dog bowl makes it easy to offer your dog water. During the walk, splash water on your dog, especially on the head.'

'We are very careful when and for how long we walk dogs during the summer,' says Cara Ng, of DB Dog Dayz, a boarding home in Sai Kung. 'Some dogs overheat very, very quickly and we do not want that to happen. Usually in the summer, we are out walking dogs at around 6am and then again at around 8pm.' It should be common sense not to clothe your dog, Gray says. 'Any clothing which restricts your dog's ability to move or perform normal acts should never be worn,' she says. 'Fashion statements are not a priority for dogs. Take extreme care with dog-carry bags; make sure your pet carrier has adequate ventilation and that the bag is not too small for your dog.

'Long-haired dogs also benefit from a full body shave, ideally leaving half an inch of hair to prevent sunburn and insect bites.' Stacy Tucker, of Ferndale Kennels, agrees: 'Longer coats can be clipped short to help the animal keep cool,' she says. 'For some older dogs, short walks are better as they really cannot cope with heat as well as the younger ones.'

'Obese animals have an extra layer of insulation and will overheat more easily,' Gray says. 'Dogs suffering from heart disease and respiratory issues also have a greatly increased risk.'

How will you know if your dog is overheating? Warning signs can include rapid panting, wide eyes, salivating, staggering, dark red gums or even total collapse.

'If you suspect your dog is suffering with heatstroke, it is imperative you take them to the nearest vet clinic as soon as possible,' Gray says.

'On the way, try cooling your dog by placing wet rags on its body, or try to place your dog in any available cool water. If ice or icepacks are available, put them in a moistened cool towel and place around the animal's head, body and neck, but not tightly.

'Don't force water into the dog's mouth if it can't drink. Excessive panting can mean they might inhale the water, making breathing more difficult.'

Thinking ahead will make sure your dog can have fun in the sun without any problems.