9 min read

My Best Friend Lost Her Dog To Heat Stroke

My best friend lost her first dog, a gorgeous black Lab named Chewy, to a hot summer's day years ago - and it's a story that has stuck with me ever since.

Thirty minutes after arriving at a park, after keeping activity minimal, after playing in the shade and after providing Chewy with copious amounts of water, my friend's Lab went into shock and had a seizure. With the help of an off-duty police officer, Chewy was rushed to the nearest animal hospital.

But he died just a minute before arriving, in my friend's arms, after she tried a last-ditch effort to give him CPR.

"I was hysterical," she told me. "I still blame myself for taking an older dog out on a hot day."

She didn't know any better.

"Heat stroke, or heat exhaustion, is more common than we think," Dr. Shian Simms, vice president of Bideawee Animal Hospitals, told The Dodo.

"The main thing is some dogs anatomically do not tolerate heat very well. But all animals can get heat stroke ... I've seen several of these cases, they're bad. The monitor doesn't even register their temperature," she said.

Heat stroke can occur in as little as 20 minutes, or take hours to turn into a dangerous scenario.

Simms said the most obvious sign to look out for when a dog is panting - if it seems excessive, or if the dog becomes listless or collapses, then it's time to take your pet indoors immediately.

"Use your common sense," Simms said. "If you have a black dog, they absorb more heat. It's true. A fluffy dog is basically wearing a fur coat; they can't tolerate the heat either. They shouldn't even go out on a hot day. They should be in an air-conditioned room."

Simms added if you do plan to take your dog out, it's best to do so in the early morning or evenings when it's cooler out. She also recommended making an investment in a cooling product, like cooling dog vests or mats.

Here is some additional information and tips to help keep your dog safe this summer.

What is heat stroke, exactly?

The medical term for the condition that leads to heat stroke is hyperthermia - basically, when the body temperature gets too high. This is typically triggered by inflammation inside the body or - you guessed it - being stuck in a hot environment, according to the American Medical Center of Southern California. Dogs don't sweat through their skin in the same way humans do - rather, they sweat through their foot pads and nose. They also keep cool by panting, but these methods aren't nearly as effective as full-body sweating, so it doesn't take much for a dog to overheat.

How "at risk" is my dog?

Your dog is especially at risk for heat stroke if he or she is is very young or very old; has a thick, dark coat; suffers from a preexisting health condition; is overweight or if he or she is a "flat nose" breed, which tend to be prone to respiratory issues in general (think bulldogs, shih tzus, pugs and Chihuahuas).

What are the signs?

Things to look out for include excessive panting, drooling, dry gums, weakness, confusion, anxiety, vomiting - among many others. Essentially, if your dog appears to not be having a good time or comes across as sick in any form, it's time to take him or her indoors to cool down - or if the signs appear to be severe (i.e., a seizure, an inability to move), to a veterinarian. Always keep an eye on your dog while outside so you'll be able to catch if something is wrong sooner rather than later.

Simms said that trying to cool a dog down quickly by placing him or her in freezing water, for example, could make the dog's condition worse and should be avoided.

How do I prevent my dog from getting heat stroke?

Besides the obvious preventative measures (keeping your dog well-hydrated with water before and during outdoor playtime, making certain your dog plays in the shade, limiting how long your dog stays outside on a hot day and the level of activity, etc.), here are a few additional tips from the Humane Society of the United States.

  • Check the temperature and humidity before heading out. "It's important to remember that it's not just the ambient temperature but also the humidity that can affect your pet," says Dr. Barry Kellogg of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. "Animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which takes heat away from their body. If the humidity is too high, they are unable to cool themselves, and their temperature will skyrocket to dangerous levels - very quickly."

Now that you have all the information you need, you can make certain you and your dog have the best - and safest - summer possible.

Watch this video about a dog who couldn't walk, but learned how to swim pretty fast: