Dog Heat Stroke: It Could Happen to You

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I thought I was doing my cockapoodle pup a favor recently when I took him out for a nice jaunt through the orchard. I had been working long hours lately and hadn’t given him nearly as many walks as I usually do.

Often, during the day when I’ve gone to work, I leave CP outside and he runs around with the guy who works on the farm, helping him check the trees, feed the hens, trim the weeds and generally do useful things that require him to zip from place to place on one of the golf carts from the U-pick operation.

CP has become so finely tuned to the sound of a golf cart now, in fact, that he bolts to the door, certain the cart scrunching over the gravel road means it’s playtime in CPWorld.

So, when I came home late that fateful evening, I jumped in the golf cart and made a quick tour of the orchard. It was a nice evening in late July and the sun was already fairly low in the sky, so I wasn’t particularly worried about the heat. Generally I figure if I, sun-sensitive soul that I am, can stand it, the dog’s OK.

That would be entirely wrong, as I now know. At first, CP galloped enthusiastically beside me. Then I became aware that I couldn’t hear his tags jingle anywhere near me.

Concerned, I headed back toward the house, and as I got close, I heard CP’s labored breathing and saw him gasping for breath with his tongue practically dragging the ground.

Instinct kicked in and I instantly reached for the garden hose, even as I noticed that the insides of his earflaps were bright red and his skin felt scorching. I hosed him down thoroughly and he began breathing a little easier, so I carried him into my house, put several inches of tepid water in the bathtub and just kept pouring the coolish water over him for what felt like half an hour.

I gave him a baby aspirin to help reduce his fever, patted him dry enough to take his rightful place at the foot of my bed, then called my vet, after hours and 30 miles away.

The doctor listened carefully, said it was certainly heat stress and that I had done the right things. It sounded as though the worst was over, and I should call back if his condition seemed to worsen during the night.

I felt so guilty, I told the vet. I thought I was doing the right thing, giving him a good run before bedtime.

“Goofy dog spirit,” Dr. Coles said ruefully. “Some of them will run themselves to death rather than stop having a good time with their people.”

Aww, ma-a-an. Now I really feel bad.

But now I know. Some dogs are more sensitive to heat than others: CP is one of those. Dogs with thick fur have a harder time of it than others: CP is also one of those. Dogs can’t sweat, so they use their tongues to cool down through evaporation. When the weather is too hot, or they exert themselves too much, their evaporation system is overwhelmed and it can get ugly very quickly. CP’s did.

Lucky dogs have people companions who will drop everything, grab the hose and cool them down, then learn their lesson and never, ever do anything that dumb again.

CP has one of those, too.