Dogs have an inefficient cooling system, making them susceptible to heatstroke. Boxers are even more prone to this problem due to their shortened muzzle which coincides with a compressed upper respiratory tract, leading to inefficient cooling through panting.
While Boxers living in areas where it is hot year-round may, to an extent, become used to heat and humidity, Boxers living in areas such as Detroit, with four seasons and temperatures that can vary as much as 30 degrees from day to day are less able to acclimate to weather extremes.
Signs of Heatstroke
A Boxer will exhibit several signs of heatstroke, increasing in severity as the situation worsens. Rapid panting and a bright red tongue are typically the first indication that a dog is overheated. Panting is a dog’s primary method of cooling itself, so not all panting is an indication of overheating. When panting becomes extreme the tongue will flatten out, rather than being cupped, and will resemble a platter.
The interior of the ears and the gums may be bright red, or the gums may become pale pink, grey or white. Saliva will become thick and sticky. As heatstroke progresses, the dog may act depressed, weak or dizzy. Vomiting and diarrhea may follow, sometimes with blood. In extreme cases, the dog will suffer from shock, or may fall into a coma. Obviously, this is a veterinary emergency.
The first thing to do when a Boxer is showing signs of heatstroke is to decrease its body temperature. Wet the coat and skin thoroughly with cool water and then circulate air over the dog’s body. Do not use ice-cold water — this can lead to hypothermia and other life-threatening conditions. Check the dog’s temperature every three to five; when it drops down to 103 degrees, turn off the fans, dry the dog thoroughly, and cover it to prevent additional heat loss. The temperature decrease will continue after you stop active cooling efforts. Offer water or an electrolyte drink if the dog is able to drink on its own.
Any dog suffering from heatstroke should see a veterinarian immediately, or as soon as the temperature has decreased to 103F. If the dog cannot be cooled on the way to the vet, cool the dog first. Dehydration and other complications can arise, including organ damage, cardiac problems, or blood clotting issues. A veterinarian can administer fluids and oxygen if necessary, and give you a list of warning signs of other problems.
Complications from heatstroke may take hours or days to appear, so it is important to keep a close watch on any Boxer that has suffered from overheating. Dogs with mild or moderate heatstroke typically recover well without long-lasting ill effects, but dogs with severe heat stroke may have long-term health problems. A dog that has suffered from heatstroke once is more likely to suffer from it again.
Different dogs will experience the effects of the heat at different temperatures; high humidity generally increases overheating problems, especially in Boxers. The best prevention, of course, is to keep a Boxer in air conditioning when the temperatures are warm, especially above 80 degrees, or when humidity is high. When this is not possible, be sure the dog has plenty of water to drink, avoid excessive exercise, and keep the dog in shaded areas. When walking, keep the dog off of sand or asphalt, which reflect heat, and carry water not only for the dog to drink, but to pour on its coat if it gets too hot. Do not leave a dog in a closed car, even on a mild day, as the temperature can rapidly increase to life-threatening levels.
For a dog crated outdoors, such as at a show or trial, set up in a shady area and use a battery-operated crate fan to circulate air through the crate. Freeze water bottles to place in the crate; as the water melts it can be given to the dog to drink or dumped onto the dog. Use cool coats or cool mats, which can be soaked in ice water to help keep a dog cool. If the temperatures will be in the 90s or higher, and you are unable to ensure your dog will have access to shade, moving air, and ample water, it might be better to leave it at home.
Preventing heatstroke is easier than dealing with it if it happens. Use common sense when taking a dog out in the heat, and monitor the dog closely for any early signs of overheating. Heatstroke can be life-threatening for Boxers, but knowing the signs and steps for cooling a dog can help prevent severe issues.
Subscribe for e-mail updates when new Detroit Boxer articles are published. It’s FREE and anonymous! Follow Jennifer on Twitter, Facebook, or her website, JenniferAWalker.com. Disclosure.