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

chow chow sitting in the sun
Chow Chows are at the highest risk of heatstroke thanks to their smushed faces and thick double coat of fur (Picture: Getty)

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.

The increased popularity of pugs is a source of concern for vets (Picture: Getty Images)

Run a dryer sheet over your dog's fur when there's a storm — chances are, they aren't freaked out about the storm but the static electricity built up in their fur. According to Martha, this should work at least 50% of the time.

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.’

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.

Two French bulldogs sitting on grass, looking up at the camera and photographed with a wide-angle lens which has resulted in a slight distortion.
The same goes for bulldogs (Picture: Jackie Bale)
Researchers described the findings published in Scientific Reports as ‘concerning’, especially as temperatures rise as flat-faced dogs become more popular.

Is something wet? Unlike humans who sweat everywhere, dogs only sweat through the pads of their feet.

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.
A sitting black Chow Chow puppy!A 12 weeks male puppy dog with a blue tongue on green grass.
Keep a close eye on your pets in the heat (Picture: Getty Images)

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.

Alternate Their Toys to Keep Their Interest. Just like us dogs get bored with new stuff after awhile, and this includes their toys. Keep their interest by alternating their access to them. Once your dog hasn’t seen their blue ball in a month they’ll have a brand new appreciation for it the next time it makes an appearance.

‘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”.’

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