Dogs can get heatstroke at 20 degrees, and not in the car

Szénási Szimonetta

2024. May 1 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Veterinarians have reported shocking data that heatstroke, which is potentially fatal, is the result of poor ownership in three quarters of cases.


Conducted by a research team from Nottingham Trent University and the Royal Veterinary College, the largest study ever undertaken in this field shows that one of the most common summer causes of death, heatstroke, is caused by the owner in 74% of the cases. And the problem is no other than excessive exercise.

The owner often unwittingly puts their pet’s life in danger.

Not only during summer is it dangerous

Researchers working on dog welfare analysed anonymised clinical records of more than 900,000 British dogs and found that 1,222 dogs had received veterinary care for heatstroke at some point in their lives, and that almost 400 cases had been recorded in just one year.

As they say, over-exercising – which includes walking too long, running around or playing games, which unfortunately there have been two recent cases in Hungary – weather alone was responsible for only 13% of cases, while travel or leaving animals in a hot vehicle was responsible for only 5% of heatstroke complaints.

Doctors see many cases in spring and autumn.

It is important to note that the vast majority of cases occurred in summer, but dogs can be at risk in spring or autumn, as heatstroke depends on temperature and not the season. In addition, the median daily temperature present in a comprehensive study of heat stroke cases was only 16.9°C!

Global warming is making things worse

As the experts point out, heatstroke is a potentially fatal condition and it can take very little time – even a few minutes – for an animal to die from the effects of overheating. As the study shows, in 14.2 percent of the cases examined, the dog could not be saved.

Due to global warming the problem is likely to become more prevalent, so it is important that owners are aware of the risk factors as well as the symptoms and what to do.

Certain groups of dogs are at higher risk

Researchers have found that certain factors predispose pets to heat stroke. It has been found that male dogs and younger dogs are more likely to develop the problem due to exercise. In addition, the following breeds are also at increased risk if they move:

  • chow-chow,
  • the English and French bulldog,
  • the greyhounds,
  • the English springer and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel,
  • a staffordshire bull terrier.

However, older animals, as well as brachycephalic, i.e. flat-faced or short-nosed breeds, such as the bulldogs and pugs mentioned above, are at greater risk even if they are just sitting outside in the heat. The flat-faced breeds in particular often suffered heat stroke when left in hot cars, the data showed.

20°C and 10 minutes of play can be fatal for a bulldog

We asked Dr. Lilla Balatonyi, veterinarian what her experience is with heatstroke cases. As she said, the risk factors listed could be extended further. Dogs with reduced thermoregulation for any reason, such as a known upper respiratory disease like laryngeal paralysis or tracheal constriction, or obese dogs (which is unfortunately a very common problem) are also at greater risk.

As the vet explained, for a brachycephalic dog, it is not just the 35 degree heat that is life-threatening. They can have breathing difficulties even in temperatures as low as 20 degrees. And the number is not just a rough estimate: recently, an English bulldog died in mild weather after a short walk and just 10 minutes of playing ball.

And if a dog with such a short nose is also overweight, the chances of heatstroke are radically increased.

To summarise the key findings of the study:

  • The majority of heatstroke events were triggered by exercise, with 68% occurring only after walking in the heat.
  • Heatstroke can occur all year round, but most cases happen between May to August. (The statement here refers to the UK, but is might also correct for other countries.)
  • Breeds such as the Chow-chow, Bulldog, Greyhound, English Springer Spaniel, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and Staffordshire Bull Terrier were more likely to get heat stroke from exercise.

As the world gets hotter, we need to include our dogs in our strategies to keep cool, as the consequences can be disastrous if we don’t keep them safe,” said Emily Hall, a researcher and veterinarian at the School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences at Nottingham Trent University.

She added that most owners are aware – thanks to a lot of campaigning – that leaving an animal in a hot car puts its life at risk. But fewer people know that running, walking or playing in the heat is just as dangerous and can also cost the animal its life.

While she considers information on this essential, she advises dog owners to either skip walks in hot weather or to do them in the early morning when it is cooler.

In hot weather, take your dog for a walk only in the early morning or evening!

Dr Dan O’Neill, co-author of the study and senior lecturer in companion animal epidemiology at The Royal Veterinary College, pointed out that there has been a significant increase in demand for these flat-faced dogs. For this reason, it is vital that owners are aware that their pets are at increased risk.

And Dr Anne Carter, Senior Lecturer in Animal Science at Nottingham Trent University, expressed the view that the data examined is only a subset of real cases. In her view, not all animals suffering from heatstroke reach a doctor. But another study shows that veterinary care is essential in heatstroke, both to save the animal’s life and to reduce the risk of possible complications.

Do this in case of heatstroke

The most important thing is to take the advice of your doctor and not to over exercise your pet, especially if it is one of these breeds. Also, look out for the following symptoms, which may indicate heatstroke:

  • dilated pupils,
  • accelerated panting, rapid breathing,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhoea,
  • rapid heartbeat,
  • red tongue, pale gums,
  • thickened saliva,
  • dizziness,
  • tremor, twitching,
  • fainting, coma.

If you notice any of these, take the dog immediately to a cool, preferably air-conditioned place, but at least in the shade, and then start cooling it down! According to the latest recommendations, the most effective way to do this for a young, healthy animal is to immerse it in cold water. Older dogs or those with underlying medical conditions should be doused with cold water and then let the animal dry by using air conditioning, a fan or even the wind.

In case of heatstroke, start cooling the animal immediately!

This is the first and most important step. Timely cooling is a lifesaver! Only then should you take the dog to the vet.

brachycephalic syndrome flat-faced breeds global warming heatstroke master and dog obesity summer summer hazards veterinarian

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