A dog's body temperature is controlled by her brain. When there are increases in outside temperatures or a dog is excited, stressed, or has been exercising, her body gets a signal from her brain to lose the extra body heat. In humans, this usually results in sweating.
Dogs do have some sweat glands, but they are much fewer than in humans and their skin is covered in fur, so this minimizes the amount of cooling the sweat can provide.
The most sweat glands in a dog are around her paw pads. You may see damp footprints from your dog walking on a hard surface in the summertime.
Panting is the most efficient way dogs have to cool themselves. It works by allowing heat from the hottest part of the body, the inner thorax, to escape through moisture produced by the mucous membranes of the tongue, mouth, and throat. The dog exhales the moist air, and the process of evaporation cools the dog.
Dilated blood vessels in the skin of the face and ears can also help a dog to cool down by bringing warm blood closer to the body's surface.
If these processes cannot be performed or the body is overwhelmed and cannot cool itself enough, heat stroke and death may occur.
What Can Make A Dog Too Hot?
- True fever
- Excitement and stress
- Warm air temperatures
- Lying near warm objects (heater, another animal, electric blanket, campfire)
- Being trapped in a car or home that's too hot
- Lack of water or other means to cool off
- Lack of shade in warm weather
Does My Dog Have a Fever or Is She Just Hot?
A temperature consistently over 102.8˚ F is cause for concern in dogs. Signs of fever include reluctance to move, increased frequency of breathing, depression, anorexia, and lethargy or listlessness.
Hyperthermia is simply an increase in body temperature. This may be due to outside temperatures, excitement, exercise or other causes and is not a true fever.
If you are unsure whether your dog actually has a fever, rest her for 20 minutes, then check the rectal temperature again. If your dog is acting normal other than panting and having an increased temperature, chances are it is hyperthermia rather than a true fever.
What Increases Heat Stroke Risk in Dogs?
- Heart or lung disease
- Any illness
- Brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs or bulldogs
- Being overweight
- Heavy fur such as in sheepdogs
Why Does My Dog Have an Increased Temperature?
As discussed above, body temperature may be increased due to many things. Fever increases the body's set temperature point (the normal temperature range of 100-102.5° F) to assist the immune system by activating immune cells to attack the foreign invader, such as a bacterial infection. With increased environmental temperatures and other causes of hyperthermia, the body's set temperature point is not increased. 1 The body temperature is temporarily increased but can cool off over a short period of time as long as cooling mechanisms are not overwhelmed by too much intense heat.
Emergency Measures for Heat Stroke in Dogs
If your dog seems to be overheated or is not acting normal, contact your veterinarian immediately. Heat stroke is possible in dogs and can be lethal. Organ failure, brain swelling, blood clotting disorders, or death may occur with heat stroke. For a very hot dog, applying cool water to the groin, armpits, and the front of the neck will cool her down. Provide fresh water to drink, and contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may give IV fluids and hospitalize your dog for additional treatments and monitoring.
Common sense and thinking ahead will allow you to avoid serious complications from overheating in your dog. Remember, if you are hot, your dog is hot. Dogs are not people—they have their own unique ways of staying cool.
Should you shave your dog in the summer to keep her cool? Take a look at this interesting article to find out.
- William R. Fenner, Quick Reference to Veterinary Medicine (Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000), 60.
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