There is a new VetCompass paper out now that sheds new light on heatstroke in dogs. Based on heavy messaging over the past decades, the focus has been on hot cars (still inadvisable to leave any dog in a car during warm or hot weather) as a main risk factor for heat stroke in dogs. But there is evidence that exercise is really the most common cause of heatstroke in dogs.
Heat-related illness (often called heatstroke) is a potentially fatal condition inflicted on dogs that will become more common as global temperatures rise. Understanding why dogs develop heatstroke can help to refine prevention strategies through owner education and societal changes. This study aimed to determine the most common triggers of heat-related illness in UK dogs, and which types of dogs were at most risk. The veterinary records of 905,543 dogs under primary veterinary care in 2016 were reviewed to identify 1259 heat-related illness events from 1222 dogs.
Exertional heat-related illness was the predominant trigger (74.2% of events), followed by environmental (12.9%) and vehicular confinement (5.2%). Canine and human risk factors appear similar; young male dogs had greater odds of exertional heat-related illness, older dogs and dogs with respiratory compromise had the greatest odds of environmental heat-related illness.
The odds of death following vehicular heat-related illness were similar to that of exertional heat-related illness. In the UK, exertional heat-related illness affects more dogs, and kills more dogs, than confinement in a hot vehicle.
As the world gets hotter, we need to include our canine companions in our strategies to stay cool, as they can suffer fatal consequences when we fail to keep them safe. Campaigns to raise public awareness about heat-related illness in dogs need to highlight that dogs don’t die just in hot cars.
I have mentioned heat stroke in my notes on previous occasions and relevant articles have been published in Walkee Talkees. These latest findings from Dan O’Neil and his colleagues at VetCompass concur with the results presented by Major Janice L. Baker, DVM US Army Veterinary Corps (who works with military working dogs). Heat Injury is number 1 cause of death in non-combat Military working dogs and number 2 non-hostile line of duty cause of death for police dogs (traumatic injury is number 1). Her seminar (which was given several years ago) was talking mostly about working dogs (fit, athletic dogs such as those used by the military, police, search/rescue, etc). But the information is equally applicable to any sport (agility, flyball & obedience etc) dogs as well.