‘Cool first, transport second’ in case of heatstroke, vets urge

sunstroke and heatstroke

A new study by the VetCompass team at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has found that dogs with heatstroke may be suffering even further due to “outdated first aid practices”, leading researchers to call for updated guidance to be promoted more widely for dogs with heatstroke, allowing owners to provide the best possible care to their pets.

Heat-related illnesses (HRI) such as heatstroke are potentially fatal for dogs. Veterinary surgeons and canine scientists from the RVC, Scotland’s Rural College and emergency veterinary care provider, Vets Now, found that less than a quarter (21.7%) of the dogs presented with heatstroke to UK vets during this period 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”.

“Similar myths about using tepid water in human medicine have been dispelled by extensive research”

More than half (51.3%) of these cooled dogs had been cooled using outdated advice by applying wet towels – better than nothing, but “not the most effective way to quickly bring down the dog’s temperature. As a matter of fact, the researchers add, advice online often advises that the dogs are cooled down slowly with tiepid water, despite “no substantial evidence” to support this guidance.

“Similar myths about using tepid water in human medicine have been dispelled by extensive research demonstrating that cold water immersion and evaporative cooling are the most effective treatments for heatstroke,” a RVC statement reads.

“This new research calls for first aid advice to be updated to the current best practice veterinary guidelines which recommend to “cool first, transport second” as the immediate first aid response for dogs with heatstroke. Recommended cooling methods include cold water immersion for young, healthy dogs, or pouring water of any temperature that is cooler than the dog over them combined with air movement from a breeze, fan, or air conditioning (evaporative cooling) for older dogs or dogs with underlying health problems. Owners should also seek veterinary advice as soon as possible.”

Emily Hall, Lecturer in Veterinary Education at the RVC, and lead author of the paper, said, “The key message for dog owners is to cool the dog quickly, using whatever water you have available provided the water is cooler than the dog. The longer a dog’s body temperature remains elevated, the more damage can occur so the sooner you can stop the temperature rise and start cooling the better.”


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