Knowing the first signs of heatstroke could save your dog's life

Dog walking the sun

With temperatures starting to rise, owners are being urged to be aware of the early signs of heatstroke in their dogs.

It comes after a new study found that more than half of dogs taken to veterinary clinics with severe heatstroke go on to die from the condition. However, the risks are much lower if cases are detected and managed earlier.

By watching out for the early, more mild clinical signs of heatstroke, owners can take action before their pet’s condition worsens and becomes potentially fatal.

Veterinary researchers at Nottingham Trent University and the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) examined anonymised clinical records of more than 900,000 UK dogs as part of the RVC’s VetCompass project.

Dog relaxing in the sun

They found that respiratory changes and lethargy were the two most common early signs of heatstroke.

In all, the researchers identified 856 heat-related incidents that required veterinary care over a two-year period. Of these cases, 111 (14.0%) were categorised as severe, with the dogs showing a range of serious clinical signs such as seizures, vomiting and loss of consciousness, and 63 (57%) went on to die of the condition.

Once dogs lost consciousness at that severe stage, they were 37 times more likely to die.

Dogs with early and milder forms of heatstroke generally showed respiratory changes (seen in 69% of mild cases), such as laboured breathing, and lethargy (seen in 48% of mild cases) where dogs displayed tiredness or changes in behaviour such as not wanting to exercise.

Almost all dogs that were taken to the vet with these early signs survived (98%).

The findings indicate that earlier recognition of these milder signs allows owners to take decisive action such as contacting their vet, giving their dog a drink or cooling it with water, bringing it inside and stopping exercise.

“If the dog is not quickly cooled or treated by a veterinary surgeon, its condition can rapidly worsen,” said lead researcher Emily Hall, a veterinary surgeon in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences. “It is vitally important that owners know to take action when their dogs show these milder signs, in order to prevent progression to heatstroke. Once dogs get to that severe stage, it’s really a coin toss as to whether they will survive.”

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