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PDSA advice for helping to keep flat-faced dogs safer in the heat

During summer last year, when the UK faced record-breaking high temperatures of over 40C in July, over 50% of dogs treated for ‘heatstroke’ by PDSA* were those with flat faces (brachycephalic breeds) such as Pugs, British & French Bulldogs and Shih Tzus.

With the summer season underway, a group of UK dog welfare experts is urging owners of flat-faced dog breeds to take extra care to protect these dogs in the warm weather.

The poor ability of these types of dogs to keep themselves cool by panting because of their abnormally flattened faces means that they are at huge risk of heatstroke in hot weather.

A survey by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) showed that over half of vets surveyed had treated flat-faced dogs for heatstroke in the past year**.

In a separate BVA survey, following last year’s record-breaking heatwave, many vets also reported being especially concerned about the impact of hot weather on flat-faced dogs, with some vets worried that owners often did not recognise visible or audible signs of heat stress in their dogs.

The Brachycephalic Working Group (BWG), a national group of the UK’s leading dog health and welfare organisations and vets, has issued advice specifically aimed at owners of flat-faced breeds, to help protect these dogs in the hotter temperatures and summer sunshine:

• Help them stay cool in hot weather - Dogs don’t sweat like humans do; instead the main way they cool themselves down is by panting. The limited breathing abilities of some flat-faced dogs means they often struggle to cool themselves down and ineffective panting in these dogs only further exacerbates their breathing difficulties.
Encourage your dog to stay in shaded areas, avoid exertion (such as outdoor walks or a game of fetch) and stay indoors through the heat of the day. Never leave flat-faced dogs in a car or conservatory, where they can overheat rapidly even on a relatively mild or overcast day.
• Plan your walks – Always avoid the warmest parts of the day to head out with your dog. Plan your walks for dawn and dusk. If this isn’t possible, it’s far better to skip a walk rather than risk a flat-faced dog going outside – a dog can develop heatstroke in as little as 15 minutes in warm conditions.
• Keep cool with fresh drinks – Ensure your dog stays well hydrated by placing bowls of fresh water around the house. And for an extra cool drink, you can add in some ice-cubes.
• Spot the early signs your dog is struggling with the heat – Being aware of physical changes to your dog from over-heating can enable owners to intervene earlier, hopefully before heatstroke sets in. Look out for the following changes in your dog: breathing more heavily than usual, having less energy, less playful than normal, panting more, stumbling or laying down.
• Recognising the signs of heatstroke - Being able to spot the signs of heatstroke and knowing when to act can save your pet’s life. Signs can vary from excessive panting, confusion, bright red gums, foaming at the mouth, vomiting, diarrhoea, collapse or even seizures.
• Cool your dog down quickly - if your dog shows any of the above signs, it’s essential to cool them down as quickly as possible. Move them into a cool area, pour cool water from the cold tap and offer them small amounts of water to drink. Be sure to contact your vet as soon as possible so they can offer the best advice for your situation. Always remember to ‘cool first, transport second’1 when taking your dog for veterinary care for heatstroke.
• Knowing Pet First Aid could save your pet’s life - Being comfortable and able to perform Pet First Aid before you get to a vet could be vital for your dog in an emergency, especially in cases of heatstroke. PDSA has a free Pet First Aid guide, full of tips and tricks for pet owners, should the worst happen.

Due to their flattened skull shapes, flat-faced (brachycephalic) dogs do not have the naturally longer nose that helps other types of dogs to lose heat during panting, meaning flat-faced breeds often struggle more than other types of dogs to lose heat effectively. These problems are exacerbated in hot weather and especially if the dogs are exercised. Owners of flat-faced breeds should be extra vigilant in the summer months when it’s likely to be warmer than usual. Warm weather can be fatal for all breeds of dogs, so it is important all owners are aware of the severe dangers.

Dr Dan O’Neill, Chair of the BWG, said: “Flat-faced dogs are currently hugely popular in the UK but owners of these breeds need to especially vigilant to protect their dogs from heatstroke. Avoid exercise during hot parts of the day and wet these dogs liberally as soon as they show are any signs of overheating. If you are concerned, contact your vet as soon as possible. The core message is ‘when in doubt, don’t go out – Dogs Die on Hot Walks’.”

The BWG, which is made up of veterinary associations, welfare organisations, universities, the government, breeders and dog owners, has more information about heat-related illness in brachycephalic dogs, and an infographic with advice, on the Group’s website.

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