Dog in car

'Cool first, transport second' if your dog overheats

Dogs with heatstroke should be cooled down before being taken to the vet, researchers say.

It comes after a new study by the VetCompass team at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) found that dogs with heatstroke may be suffering even further due to outdated first aid practices.

The research included data on 856 dogs who were seen by vets for management of heat-related illnesses between 2016 and 2018.

The findings showed that less than a quarter (21.7%) of the dogs had been actively cooled before being transported to the veterinary clinic, and only 24% of these dogs had been cooled using currently recommended methods of either immersion or soaking combined with air movement. More than half (51.3%) of the cooled dogs had been cooled using outdated advice by applying wet towels. While better than no active cooling, the application of wet towels is not nearly as effective as water immersion or evaporative cooling for rapid and steep reduction in body temperature, the RVC said.

Many websites continue to offer first aid advice to dog owners recommending “slow” cooling using “tepid but not cold water”, despite a lack of evidence to support this guidance. Similar myths about using tepid water in humans have been dispelled by extensive research demonstrating that cold water immersion and evaporative cooling are the most effective treatments for heatstroke.

The priority is to cool dogs early and to ensure a rapid reduction in their core body temperature to limit disease progression, the RVC stressed.

Recommended cooling methods include cold water immersion for young, healthy dogs. For older dogs and those with underlying health problems, the advice is to pour water of any temperature that is cooler than the dog over them combined with air movement from a breeze, fan or air conditioning (known as evaporative cooling). Owners should also seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.

Read more about how to take care of your older dog in the hot weather in this Petwise feature.