Vets Report Fivefold Increase in Heatstroke Cases: Dog Owners Warned as Summer Heats Up

dog panting in field

As the mercury rises, dog owners are being urged to become more aware of the dangers posed by hot weather. The Met Office has forecasted “much warmer” conditions across large parts of the UK, prompting animal welfare charities and veterinary organisations to issue urgent warnings.

Staggering new data from the Royal Veterinary College reveals that vets see a fivefold increase in heatstroke cases during hot weather compared to the rest of summer.

The Royal Veterinary College’s latest heatstroke study highlighted that one in four dogs affected by heatstroke during heat-health alerts between June and August 2022 did not survive. In light of 2022’s record-breaking summer, a British Veterinary Association survey found that 9% of vets saw dogs suffering heatstroke from being left in hot cars. More alarmingly, nearly four times as many vets (38%) reported cases from dogs walked on hot days.

Emily Hall, lecturer and lead canine heatstroke researcher at the Royal Veterinary College, emphasised the importance of prevention: “Dogs die in hot cars and on hot walks. Owners must avoid known triggers to heat-related illness, especially during heatwaves. If in doubt, don’t go out.”

Hall advises that in the event of overheating, owners should cool their dogs first before transporting them to a vet: “The longer we allow our dogs to remain hot, the more damage occurs, increasing the risk of heatstroke fatalities.”

Polling from the RSPCA revealed that only 58% of people would not leave their dog inside a car on a warm day, indicating a significant underestimation of the risk. Esme Wheeler, an expert in dog welfare at the RSPCA, stressed the need for proactive measures: “We’re encouraging owners to do some ‘pet homework’ now to prepare as much as they can for the heat to keep their animals safe.”

To help dog owners prepare, the RSPCA is hosting interactive ‘Cool Dog Summer’ workshops online. Wheeler advises checking temperature forecasts daily, planning cooler times for walks, and knowing how to act in case of heatstroke.

Tips for Keeping Dogs Safe in Hot Weather

  1. Check Your Dog’s Weight: Ask your vet for a weight check to ensure your dog is healthy.
  2. Plan Ahead for Travel: Consider your dog’s time in vehicles, keep them hydrated, and know how to keep them cool if delayed.
  3. Use Pet Sitting Services: Research trusted local pet sitters to avoid taking your dog out in hot weather.
  4. Walk at Cooler Times: Plan walks for early morning or late evening and use hashtags #DogsAtDawn and #DogsAtDusk to raise awareness.
  5. Create Cool Spaces at Home: Identify the coolest areas in your home and avoid conservatories or sunlit rooms.
  6. Ensure Hydration: Place extra water bowls around your home and garden.
  7. Prepare Frozen Treats: Use puzzle feeders or Kong toys for frozen treats.
  8. Monitor the Weather: Check daily forecasts, especially the “feels like” temperature.
  9. Sign Up for Alerts: Register for heat-health alerts to stay informed during heatwaves.

Recognising and Responding to Heatstroke

Early Signs of Heat-Related Illness:

  • Excessive panting
  • Unusual tiredness
  • Changes in behaviour, such as lying down more frequently
  • Reduced eagerness to play

Severe Heatstroke Symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing with unusual noise or blue/grey gums
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Bleeding under the skin
  • Collapse and unresponsiveness

Immediate Actions if Heatstroke is Suspected:

  1. Stop exercising your dog.
  2. Move them to a cool, shaded area.
  3. Provide water (do not force them to drink).
  4. Wet the dog thoroughly with cool water and ensure air circulation.
  5. Contact your vet immediately for further advice.

By taking these precautions, dog owners can significantly reduce the risk of heatstroke and ensure a safe, enjoyable summer for their pets.

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