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Dogs & hot weather - risks & signs of heatstroke

With a large part of the UK experiencing a heatwave with record temperatures at the moment, many of us will be finding it extremely hot, but spare a thought for your Border Terrier in extreme heat.  Many will be familiar with the Dogs Die in Hot Cars animal welfare campaign, but a new campaign was launched earlier this year to raise awareness that Dogs Die on Hot Walks too.  With climate change rising temperatures are expected and the UK may experience more extreme heat events than we are used to.

Here we summarise the campaigns and provide a little more information on what to do with your Border Terrier in extreme heat.

Dogs die on hot walks

Many dogs can't wait to get out for a walk the minute the shoes go on and the lead is picked up, however when the weather is warm, exercise may not be the best thing for them.

Many will be aware of the 'dogs die in hot cars' campaign, but this new campaign seeks to highlight the dangers from exercise in too hot weather.  In fact, 10 times as many dogs require vet care for heat related illness after exercise than those overheating in cars.

It can take weeks for a dog to acclimatise to hot weather, so rapid increase in temperature can cause problems after a cold spell in the spring for example.  But with a summer heatwave, we often start making plans to enjoy the weather by enjoying the outdoors more with walks in fields or on beaches, but with little or no shade, this may be putting your Border Terrier at risk, even on a short walk.

Any breed of dog is at risk, but if your dog has an underlying health condition (especially one affecting their breathing), is overweight or has a double coat like Border Terriers do, they could overheat more easily.

If in doubt, don't go out

Esme Wheeler, RSPCA dog welfare specialist, said “We have long-campaigned that dogs die in hot cars, but this year we’re highlighting that dogs die on hot walks, too. The message remains very simple - never leave a dog in a hot car because ‘not long’ is too long, and when it comes to walks, ‘if in doubt, don’t go out."

Read more from the RSPCA about dogs die on hot walks.

No dog has died from missing one walk, but it could die from even a short walk where it gets overheated. 

Dogs die in hot cars

With staycations on the rise during the pandemic and more dog friendly places on the map, many people are travelling with their pets.  However, not everywhere is dog friendly, so you need to plan carefully to ensure your dog is safe and avoids heatstroke.

Never leave your dog in a car, even if parked in shade or the windows are open, as this doesn't help.  And while we're on the subject, never leave your dog tied up unattended, as the risk of dog theft has risen since the pandemic.

A car as hot as an oven

A car can become as hot as an oven, even when the weather doesn't feel that warm. When it's 22 degrees Celsius outside, the car could reach an unbearable 47 degrees within an hour. It's very dangerous and will cause your dog suffering and harm.

For more information download the RSPCA Summer Dog Care leaflet below:

What dogs are at risk?

Dr Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor Companion Animal Epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College advises:

- Dogs cool down by panting, so dogs with any kind of breathing issue may struggle to pant effectively and may struggle to cool down. This is especially a problem for brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs that have narrowed airways, dogs with respiratory diseases such as laryngeal paralysis, and dogs with heart disease, to name a few.

- Dogs also lose heat directly to their surrounding air, so dogs with thick coats [or double coats such as Border Terriers], wearing doggy-clothes, and overweight dogs with excess body fat will retain more heat and cool more slowly during exercise.

- Unfit dogs and dehydrated dogs cool down more slowly than dogs that are athletically fit and well hydrated. So, if your dog has been injured, is unwell, or just hasn’t done as much exercise recently as perhaps you would have liked, then they will get hotter faster and will take longer to cool down when exercising.

What are the signs of heat-related illness in dogs?

- Excessive panting that doesn’t stop when the dog rests
- Difficulty breathing, especially if there is unusual noise or any blue/grey tinge to gums or tongue
- Unusual tiredness - becoming tired sooner than normal
- Changes in behaviour - lying down more frequently and stumbling or uncoordinated gait
- Less keen to play

Emergency first aid for heatstroke in dogs

For the best chance of survival, dogs urgently need to have their body temperature lowered gradually (to avoid the chance of going into shock).  The advice below is from the RSPCA website:

- Move the dog to a shaded and cool area and stop all exercise.

- Immediately pour cool (not cold to avoid shock) water over the dog. Tap water (15-16°C) has been found to be the most effective at cooling dogs with heat-related illnesses.  In a true emergency, any water is better than nothing.

- Wet towels placed over the dog can worsen the condition, trapping heat.  In mild cases towels can be placed under the dog, but never over, and in a true emergency water immersion or pouring water with air movement is ideal.

- Allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water.

- Continue to pour cool water over the dog until their breathing starts to settle, but not too much that they start shivering.

- Dogs that have lost consciousness will stop panting, despite still having a very high temperature, these dogs require urgent aggressive cooling as a priority. 

- Throughout the treatment of heatstroke, try to avoid pouring water on or near your dog's head, as there is a risk of them inhaling water which could lead to drowning, especially for flat-faced and unconscious dogs.

Seek veterinary advice as a matter of urgency.

Top tips for keeping dogs comfortable in warm weather

- Never leave your dog in a hot car, ever
- Never leave your pets in any vehicle or caravan, or in a conservatory or outbuilding.
- Exercise dogs in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler.
- Avoid over-exercising dogs in warm weather and avoid encouraging them to over-exert themselves when playing.
- If you know your dog has an underlying condition, then take extra care in hot weather or consider skipping walks altogether.
- Provide constant access to fresh, clean water and cool, shady resting spots.
- Avoid taking dogs on long days out in the heat.
- Remember, pavements can get very hot in the warm weather - if you can't comfortably keep your hand on the ground for five seconds, then it’s too hot for your dog’s paws too.
- If necessary, consider a pet-safe sun cream on exposed parts of your dog’s skin.

You could also consider making some healthy, chilled dog treats, check out Debora Robertson's book Dog's Dinners for chilled snacks (click on the image below for Amazon link or ask at your local bookshop).  Alternatively, see the Dog's Trust video below for some simple alternative ideas.


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