Bulldog Health: Heat Stroke

In August 2012, Louisiana Tech University's beloved mascot, Tech XX, died from heat stroke when a caretaker left him out in the sweltering sun.
Roxy's piglike snorting and snoring may seem endearing, but in hot weather, her compromised breathing can quickly lead to trouble, even death.

Dogs do not sweat, and instead rely on panting to cool down. Short, rapid breathing increases air flow over the moist surfaces in a dog's upper airway, increasing evaporation and dissipating heat. The English bulldog's short snout, long soft palate, and genetic predisposition to stenotic nares (narrow nostrils) and hypoplastic trachea (narrow windpipe) interfere with its ability to breathe properly under exertion, making this breed especially prone to heat stroke.

According to Jim Young, DVM,
Bulldogs are extremely intolerant of heat. They must be kept in an air-conditioned area with limited trips outside when the outside temperature is over 80 degrees or the humidity is high. Close supervision is required during outside activity, especially in spring and summer to prevent over-exertion leading to over-heating. They also are not usually capable of prolonged physical activity whether the temperature is very warm or cold: a Bulldog is not for someone who enjoys taking a dog for long walks through the countryside.
I always laugh that walking Roxy is not like walking a dog. Runners whiz by with obedient labradors at their heels while I'm pulled along on what I call Roxy's Miss Aloha tour. She stops under every tree, begs for adulation from every passerby, and is unabashed about dragging/scooting her ass across the neighbor's driveway. Nevertheless, I am always mindful of the effects of overheating. I always walk her at dusk, bring along a squirt water bottle so I can give her a quick drink and mist her down, and always watch for signs of overheating and overexertion. (One article I read recommends the "wet-shirt" method: put your bully in a child's t-shirt and wet him down in water before the walk.)

One day our adult son, unaware of Roxy's limitations, took her on what he thought was a very short walk in 82 degree weather. Despite many rest breaks and ample water, she came home to us with labored panting, frothing mouth and protruding dark red tongue. She was staggering, refused to drink (because of her labored breathing), and vomited. We hosed her down with water and when she was able to tolerate it, gave her ice chips and iced water. I even mixed a little electrolyte "vitamin drink" into her water--I don't know if this is advisable--because I was worried about hyponatremia with all the water she was gulping down. Very scary. We were lucky that day, and our son has learned that despite her sturdy appearance and bully personality, our little girl does have her limitations.

Articles about heat stroke in bulldogs and life-saving interventions:


Disclaimer: This is a chronicle of our bulldog's healthcare experiences, and is not intended to give medical advice. It is best to have all health issues evaluated by a veterinarian.

©2012 Tammy Yee