Dogs with heatstroke could become more ill or even die due to owners following outdated first aid practices.
A study by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) found less than a quarter of dogs with heatstroke had been actively cooled before being taken to the vet.
Of the dogs that had been cooled, more than half had been undergone the outdated method of applying wet towels.
Many websites recommend owners cool their dogs slowly using “tepid but not cold water” – despite no substantial evidence to support this guidance, the RVC said.
Instead, owners should cool dogs with heatstroke rapidly, following the guideline “cool first, transport second”.
Young, healthy dogs can be immersed in cold water. For older dogs or those with underlying health problems, water that is cooler than the dog should be poured over it, and that should be combined with air movement from a breeze, fan or air conditioning.
“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,” said lead author Emily Hall, from the RVC.
“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.”
Co-author Dan O’Neill said previous research had shown only 43% of dogs treated for heatstroke survived, while those treated for more mild heat-related illness had a survival rate of 97%.
He said the data was “very clear”, adding: “Acting early to cool dogs as soon as mild signs of overheating are observed will save lives.”
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Hot dogs cool off amid European heatwave The RVC study used data from 945,543 dogs, 856 of which presented with heat-related illnesses.
It found only 24% of dogs that had been cooled had experienced the recommended methods of cooling.
The new research calls for first aid advice to be updated to the current best practice guidelines, which were published in 2016 by the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.
Co-author Anne Carter said: “It takes time to put research into practice, and this can be harder when you’re faced with long-standing myths.
“We urge veterinary professionals, dog owners and any sources of first aid advice to review the recommendations on cooling methods, dispel the myths and promote the message to ‘cool first, transport second’.”