Human Heat-Health Alerts
Could Help Prevent Heatstroke In Dogs

FeaturesWagging Tales

New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) which investigated heatstroke in UK dogs has found a strong correlation between the occurrence of these episodes in dogs and heatwaves in the UK. Researchers therefore suggest that heat-health alerts designed for humans should also be used as a tool for owners to protect their dogs from heat-related illnesses.

Heatstroke is a largely preventable but often fatal condition for dogs, occurring when a dog’s core body temperature increases to the point where it can no longer manage to reduce the temperature to a safe level by natural mechanisms such as panting or moving to a cooler area. The resulting hyperthermia can lead to systemic inflammation, organ dysfunction and eventually death if not treated urgently and effectively. With climate change now causing some of the hottest years on record, there is growing concern about the rising risk of heat-related deaths in both humans and animals.

The new study, led by Sian Beard, a Masters in Research student at the RVC and part of the VetCompass Programme, set out to explore the factors associated with incidents of heat-related illnesses in dogs. The research, supported by Dogs Trust, analysed 167,751 anonymised UK emergency care veterinary records from 2022 and investigated the 384 cases of heatstroke identified in dogs.

The findings show that 59.64% of the overall annual heatstroke cases occurred during just 40 days that comprised the five heatwave periods of 2022. The most commonly cited reasons for triggering heat-related illnesses were exercise (51.46% of cases), hot environment (31.02% of cases) and hot vehicles (12.41%).

The researchers concluded that the current system of heat-health alert days reported by the UK Health Security Agency was also hugely predictive of heatstroke in dogs, with five times as many cases of heatstroke per day during the five heat periods of 2022, compared with other summer days that did not have heat-health alerts issued. The study highlights that extra caution should be employed by dog owners during UK heat-health alerts and they should avoid exposing their dogs to known heatstroke triggers such as exercise or car travel on these days.

Other research findings from the study included:

● 26.56% of the dogs with heatstroke died.

Nearly half (48.7%) of the dogs with heatstroke were dog breeds with flat faces. Flat-faced dog breeds were four times more likely to develop heatstroke than normal-faced dogs.

The seven breeds at significantly increased risk of heatstroke were Newfoundland, Chow Chow, English Bulldog, French Bulldog, Pug, Pomeranian and Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Dogs aged 4 to 6 and 8 to 10 years had a significantly greater risk of heat-related illnesses compared to dogs under 2 years old.

Male dogs had a significantly greater risk of heat-related illnesses compared to female dogs.

Sian Beard, MRes student at the RVC, said:

“As heatwaves increase in frequency and severity due to climate change, we need to prevent our dogs from suffering heatstroke. Heatstroke is often a preventable condition, and we urge all dog owners, particularly those who own a flat-faced or double-coated dog breed, to be vigilant. We recommend avoiding known triggers such as exercise with pets over the summer period, especially during heat-health alerts.”

Paula Boyden, Veterinary Director at Dogs Trust, said:

“Dogs Trust is delighted to have supported this research which gives clear indicators of risk factor for heatstroke in dogs. Using heat-health alerts is an innovative way to help dog owners keep their dogs safe and avoid this life-threatening condition.”

Owners can help prevent heat stroke in their dogs by ensuring they have access to a cool shaded area; restricting exercise in hot weather; packing a water bottle on walks; never leaving them in a hot car or hot room; ensuring drinking water is always available; and making sure their pet is regularly groomed if this is advised for their breed. Owners can also support their dog by learning how to recognise early signs of overheating (including excessive panting, reluctance to move, drooling, red gums or tongue, and vomiting or diarrhoea) so they can take action to limit disease severity and progression.

Additionally, the RVC advises “cool first, transport second” as the immediate first aid response for dogs which do develop heatstroke. Owners worried their dog has overheated should:

Take their dog somewhere cool, ideally a well-ventilated area (or use a fan)

Offer them small sips of water (do not force them to drink)

Pour water of any temperature that is cooler than the dog over them (avoiding the head) and combine with air movement from a breeze, fan, or air conditioning.

Once these steps have been started, call the vets who will be able to advise further. Even if the pet seems to be okay, it’s important to have them checked (unless told otherwise), as the more serious signs of heatstroke may not be immediately apparent.

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