Flat-faced dogs ‘up to 17 times more at risk of heatstroke’

Lifestyle

If you happen to have a dog that’s a flat-faced breed, please, please take extra caution in the heat.

Flat-faced dogs are up to 17 times more at risk of heatstroke, new research warns.

Bulldogs, French bulldogs, and pugs, have short snouts that can prevent panting, which stops them cooling off and thus makes them prone to heatstroke – which can be fatal.

Known as ‘brachycephalic’ breeds, these types of dogs have a small skull and short nose. They should not be kept in the sun for long spells, say British scientists.

An analysis of the clinical records of more than 900,000 dogs across the UK found just how much more vulnerable these flat-faced breeds are when it comes to heatstroke.

The Chow Chow is most vulnerable, at 17 times more likely to suffer heatstroke than a Labrador retriever (that’s Britain’s favourite dog, FYI, hence using that breed as a comparison point.

This is followed by the bulldog, which is 14 times as likely, then the French bulldog, six times as likely.

Then came the Dogue de Bordeaux (five times as likely) and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the Pug (both three times as likely).

Corresponding author Dr Emily Hall, a veterinary surgeon at Nottingham Trent University, said: ‘It’s likely brachycephalic dogs overheat due to their intrinsically ineffective cooling mechanisms.

‘Dogs pant to cool down – without a nose, panting is simply less effective.

‘In fact, brachycephalic dogs may even generate more heat simply gasping to breathe than they lose by panting.’

Signs of heatstroke in dogs:
Increased panting
Excessive drooling
Lethargy or drowsiness
Lack of coordination
Collapsing
Vomiting
If a dog is displaying any signs of heatstroke, move them to a cool, shaded area and call a vet immediately.

Emergency first aid for dogs showing signs of heatstroke:

Move him/her to a shaded/cool area.
Immediately douse the dog with cool (not cold) water, to avoid shock. If possible, you can also use wet towels or place him/her in the breeze of a fan.
Allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water.
Continue to douse the dog with cool water until his/her breathing starts to settle but never so much that he/she begins to shiver.
Once the dog is cool, take him/her to the nearest vet as a matter of urgency.

RSPCA

The largest study of its kind found almost 400 confirmed cases during 2016 with 56 of the animals – one-in-seven – dying. In general flat-faced dogs were over twice as prone as their non-flat-faced counterparts.

The researchers say their results could just be the tip of the iceberg, as many dog owners may not take their pooches to the vets or even know that their pet is struggling.

Researchers described the findings published in Scientific Reports as ‘concerning’, especially as temperatures rise as flat-faced dogs become more popular.

They want vets to weigh up the risk of heatstroke when advising owners on choosing a breed, and urge owners to consider the health risks of trendy flat-faced dogs.

Also at higher risk of heatstroke are Greyhounds, due to their long, narrow nose, and dogs with thick double coats that trap warm air against the body, such as Chow Chows and Golden Retrievers.

If a dog is obese or overweight, it is also more at risk. Those weighing 50kg or above had almost three and a half times the odds of heat stroke compared to dogs weighing under 10kg.

Dr Hall said’We hope our findings will help both veterinary professionals and dog owners to identify those dogs at increased risk, so they can make potentially life-saving decisions such as avoiding exercising their dogs during hot weather.

‘There are no statistics on how many dogs die every year from heat exposure because the majority of cases go unreported

‘But it is estimated several hundred suffer this slow, agonising fate.’

Co-author Dr Dan O’Neill, senior lecturer in companion animal epidemiology at The Royal Veterinary College, added: ‘As the UK moves progressively towards higher average temperatures due to global warming effects, we all need to wake up to the changing health hazards that our dogs will increasingly face.

‘Greater understanding of which breeds, ages and types of dogs are at extra risk of heat-related illness can assist owners to select breeds that are more resistant to heat effects and to plan how best to protect predisposed dog types from their increased risk by, for example, altering times and levels of outdoor activity.

‘Knowledge is power when it comes to protecting our beloved dogs. A core message from this study would be to “stop and think before buying a flat-faced dog”.’