German Spitz and Heatstroke: All You Need to Know


Heatstroke in dogs is a serious condition; in some cases, it may even become a life-threatening situation. Dogs do not sweat as we humans do, so dogs are more sensitive to heat. Dogs aren’t able to regulate their body heat as well as we are, and this is what we need to remember at all times.

German Spitz is a dog breed that is especially sensitive to heat because they have a profuse double coat. Their coats are actually made for cold winter days. On most cold days they do just fine and they are always ready for long walks no matter what the temperature is in the winter. Summer is a different matter.

Usually, a German Spitz should shed most of the inner coat as the summer approaches, but this does not happen nearly as often as you’d think. Some of them may even start shedding in the middle of the winter and then, by the time the summer starts, they will have grown a full coat.

The color of the dog’s coat is another factor. A light-colored German Spitz may be able to handle sunlight fairly well, while a darker colored counterpart of his may suffer a lot more. My German Spitz Mittel is dark gray, and as the years have gone by I have noticed how he is unable to handle the heat.

In fact, I have a story to tell you and I will share it with you later in this post. It’s a story about how my German Spitz Mittel suffered a heat stroke and how we managed to survive through it. If I can save the life of a single dog with this story of mine, telling you about is all worth it.

So, read on, and I’ll share with you everything I know about this deadly condition.

What causes dogs to get heatstroke?

Heatstroke, otherwise known as hyperthermia in dogs is when their body temperature rises above normal (which is around 101.5F, 38.6C). If you have a reason to doubt that your dog is suffering from heatstroke, taking his temperature would be a good idea: body temperature above 105F/40C is suggestive of heatstroke.

As I said in the beginning, dogs do not sweat like we do, so the only way to regulate body heat for dogs is to pant. You see German Spitzes panting quite often, especially in the summer time, and it is the first sign that it is getting too hot. If you notice your dog panting excessively you need to be careful not to overexpose your dog to sun and heat.  

There are certain contributing factors that can cause heatstroke in your dog. For example, certain dogs can handle heat better than others.

No dog is 100% safe from heatstroke but some dogs get it more easily than others. Dog breeds that are long-haired / have double coats and/or are short-nosed like bulldogs and pugs are more likely to have heatstrokes than some other breeds. When it comes to individual characteristics you will find that puppies and older dogs get this condition more often than youngish adult dogs. Overweight and obese dogs are also in danger.

You may have already heard that the most dangerous place for a dog to be in during the summer is a stationary vehicle. It is a confined place that without a functioning air-conditioning or sufficient ventilation gets dangerously hot within minutes. Just try it out: I bet you will soon feel very uncomfortable, and remember that dogs are not able to regulate their body temperatures. Then you will understand that being in a car can quickly become fatal.

In the summer time when it is hot it doesn’t make a difference if you leave a window open a little bit or you park in shade (although on cooler days those could work). The best thing to do is to never leave your dog in the car when it’s parked during the summer months. That is the safest option by far.

Imagine if you plan to stop somewhere for a minute. Just a minute, you think. But then something happens and you are not able to return as quickly as you thought. By the time you’re back, it could already be too late. Heatstroke can start really fast.

But you have probably already heard of the dangers of leaving your dog in a vehicle by himself and you would never do it, you think. Well, your German Spitz may still get serious heatstroke, because leaving your dog in a car is not the only way this can happen.

Exercise is another. You know that exercise is important and you want to do the right thing by taking your German Spitz for a walk. You think the weather is still manageable, but can your dog handle it? Probably not.

German Spitz has got this fur that makes him comfortable in the winter but really uncomfortable on hot summer days. If you have any doubts about whether it is too hot or not, it probably is too hot for your German Spitz. Most likely on a day like this, it is best if you just stay inside for the day, play some activity games indoors or maybe go swimming instead.

What are the heatstroke symptoms in dogs?

Symptoms are not always clear because they can vary between individuals. However, if you notice any or several of these listed below, heatstroke is the one you should have first on your mind. Knowing what to suspect and therefore knowing quickly what to do might save your dog’s life, as you will see later in this post when I tell you my own story.                

  • Panting
  • Hypersalivation (drooling)
  • Warm to touch
  • Red mucous membranes of the mouth
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dry nose
  • Quiet or poorly responsive, may lay down and refuse or be unable to rise
  • Vomiting
  • Blood from the mouth or in stool
  • Seizures
  • Muscle tremors
  • Ataxia (staggering)
  • Coma
  • Death

(SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Can you take a German Spitz out with you on a hot day?

So, you’re on vacation and you would love to take your precious German Spitz with you on your day’s explorations. Can you? Well, I’ll tell you straight that if it’s very hot indeed, don’t. Just don’t. It will be best for all of you.

However, if it’s fairly warm and you are not totally sure, try to make your own judgments. If your dog is in good health, he’s neither a puppy nor a senior you might be able to take him with you.

Think of the place where you are going: while sitting on a sunny terrace would sound like a nice idea to you, it could be way too hot for your dog. Instead, if you know there’s going to be shade and/or other ways to cool your dog, then it might be totally fine.

When you take your dog for a walk, try walking on trails and forestry paths instead of hot pavement. Whenever there’re trees, there’s shade, too. Hot pavements can be downright dangerous for your dog as he might get paw burns. It’s easy for you because you’ve got shoes, but your dog doesn’t. The rule of thumb is that if you cannot keep your hand on the ground for 5 seconds, it is too hot for your dog to walk on it. On a sunny day, it usually is.  

It is best to go for a walk early in the morning or late in the evening. It might still be too hot, but at least the rays of sunshine are not quite as strong as they are in the middle of the day. If you like to go hiking like I do, an overnight trip to nature might be possible, if you start your trip in the evening, spend the night in some place beautiful, and then hike back in the early hours of the morning. Try to be creative!

Always, always remember to give your dog water. Your dog needs to have water available at all times. He will drink in his own time but at least he needs to be able to drink if he wants to.

If you think your dog is not drinking enough then you could try adding something extra delicious to your dog’s water bowl. A little bit of tuna or a piece of meat usually works fine: they will get your dog drinking in no time.

I have a short video clip that you can watch down below. It is my gray German Spitz when he was still a puppy. He doesn’t go swimming on his own, but you will see how much he likes water. This is a great way for a dog to cool down in the summer.

Gear to help your German Spitz stand the heat

You are not the only one who struggles keeping a dog safe in the summer heat waves, and manufacturers have noticed the demand for various cooling devices. These days there are plenty of gear designed specifically to alleviate your dog’s life on hot days.

From experience, I can say that you really want to do everything in your power to help your German Spitz handle the heat. If it means buying a few items, that’s what you do. Heatstroke can even lead to death; it is not to be taken lightly.

I will list a few of my favorite items below.

Dog cooling mat

This is highly convenient because it is easy to carry, so you can take it with you anywhere you go. It absorbs the dog’s body heat and your dog will feel comfortable lying on it. He will feel totally refreshed after taking a nap.

Get your dog used to the cooling mat little by little. Get him to calm down and lie down on it and provide regular treats so that he will soon learn the benefits of the cooling mat. Your dog needs to enjoy it! Get yours on Amazon. Opens in a new tab.

Dog cooling vest

A cooling vest works for younger dogs that simply cannot stay still. Those types of dogs don’t know what’s best for them, so getting them to lie down on a cooling mat might be too difficult. However, if they are wearing a vest they will be cooled while moving.

A cooling vest is very simple to use but it works. Ruffwear provides excellent quality that I recommend. You can find the Ruffwear cooling vests on Amazon. Check the current price here. Opens in a new tab.

A wet towel works the same way and is obviously way cheaper. In case of an emergency, it is actually a great way to cool down your dog. However, in your everyday lives, you cannot put a towel on your dog and expect your dog to keep it there for hours, even the idea makes me laugh. No, it is a much better idea to invest in a good vest and your dog will feel comfortable throughout the day.

Crate fan

If you have read my article about crates you know how I feel about them.

Is It Okay to Crate a German Spitz? You may be surprised Opens in a new tab.

However, you do need a crate/transportation box on a regular basis living your life with a dog. A crate fan might be exactly what you need.

I own one of those. I purchased one back in the day when I didn’t have my own car and I was relying on public transport. On longer trips I carried my dog in a transportation box and while in a vehicle I put a fan on the box. I also used the fan once I had a car but I didn’t have air conditioning in it (yeah, that can happen, too).

You wouldn’t think so on a quick glance, but these fans are actually pretty effective. When you put one of those on the crate itself the cooling air effectively cools the box your dog is in. Imagine having a fan in the room and going to sit right by it. It does work! Get yours on Amazon by clicking this linkOpens in a new tab..

Dog pool

Swimming is a great way of exercising when it’s hot, but what if you don’t have the possibility of taking your dog swimming, at least not every day? Then, any water-related activities will do.

Having a dog pool in your backyard is a great idea! Introduce your dog to the pool slowly and show him what a fun way it is to spend the day. Once your dog learns that the water cools him off nicely and he is able to play for longer, your dog will happily play in the dog pool.

It may come to you as a surprise but most German Spitzes love water. You could possibly use pools that are designed for children but unfortunately, your dog could break a pool like that pretty quickly. Therefore, a pool that is specifically meant for dogs could work better.

It is also important that the bottom of the pool is not slippery. Here is a great dog pool on Amazon that you might want to take a look at.Opens in a new tab.

Floating toys

So, German Spitzes love water, but it may actually be quite hard to get them swimming without something to get them excited. Trust me, I know.

A toy that floats is a good idea! You throw the toy in the water (not too far at first) and your German Spitz will so badly want to get the toy that he swims to get it. Then he realizes that it’s actually pretty fun and he will soon ask you to throw the toy again.

German Spitz Mittel swimming with a toy in his mouth

Kong toys

I’ve mentioned Kong toys in this blog several times but I must do that again because they are simply great! I love them because my dogs love them so much.

Kong toys work the best if you stuff the toy with food but then put it in a freezer for a bit before you give it to your dog. A German Spitz is smart and he may learn quickly that if he tosses the toy around the food will fly right out of the Kong. But, if it’s frozen, then there is no other alternative but to lick the stuffing slowly out of the Kong. This takes time.

On hot summer days, this activity is especially effective because the frozen stuffing cools your dog down as he keeps licking it. It also calms your dog: he has to keep still so that he is able to lick the food. It’s just the kind of activity your dog needs on a hot day.

I always give my dogs the black Extreme Kong toys instead of the red ones. The black ones are tough and they never break. Therefore, they are safe to use. They are available on Amazon; just check the price by clicking this linkOpens in a new tab.. The medium-sized is the right size for a German Spitz Mittel; Pomeranians and Kleins can go with smaller.

Heatstroke and a German Spitz – Owner’s experience

I have talked about not leaving your dog in a stationary vehicle in the summer. I have talked about not walking your dog on hot pavement. Those are the most obvious situations where your German Spitz may get heatstroke, but they are by no means the only ones. Your dog can get heatstroke even in the safety of your own backyard. That’s what happened to us this past summer.

My dog – Unto is his name – is seven years old. He’s not a youngster anymore but he is not old, either. He’s been healthy all his life, in fact, he’s never been sick. He is used to hiking and running and he is in good physical shape.

It was a hot sunny day in June. We were out at the cabin and Unto was outside with me while I was doing some yard work. I was planning to take him inside the cabin for the rest of the day, but at the time it was still morning, I’m guessing around 10 o’clock, so I figured I’d let him stay out for a bit longer.

Suddenly, I saw that Unto fell down on the ground. In a matter of seconds, I was by his side. I could see that his eyes were open but he wasn’t responsive.

In my mind I knew right away what this was about: hyperthermia. Out of some dumb luck I had a bucket full of cool (but not cold) water beside me. I was quickly able to wet Unto’s tummy and legs and the tip of his ears. I instinctively knew what I had to do, but Unto still didn’t react. Those were some scary minutes, even though I cannot be sure if they were minutes or seconds. It felt long.

At last I noticed that Unto’s eyes came back to life. He didn’t try to move or to get up but his eyes reacted to his surroundings and I could tell he could hear me talking to him. I was so relieved even though I knew we weren’t on the safe side just yet.

I lifted Unto up on my arms, I carried him inside the cabin, and I placed a wet towel on his back. Then I called the vet.

Heatstroke is a really serious condition and if the dog has been unconscious like Unto was you just know it is about life and death. In most cases, a dog like that needs to get to the vet as soon as possible and in some cases, he is not even going to make it that far. But Unto, he seemed to be doing fine at that point.

At the clinic they advised me to take Unto’s temperature, but since I was at the cabin and not at home I didn’t have anything to measure it with. I had to go by my instincts. Unto looked just fine at that point so they told me to stay where we were and let Unto get some rest. Inside the cabin it was fairly cool so we agreed it was best to stay there instead of getting in a hot car to drive to the clinic.

In the end Unto survived. Now that I am writing this he is happily sleeping at my feet. We’ve gone for walks, we’ve gone hiking and we’ve done all kinds of fun stuff since then. I am so grateful he survived because I know it could have just as easily turned out the other way around.

What I want to tell you with this story is that heatstroke is not just something a dog can get in a hot vehicle. That’s what people warn about – and it’s good that they do – but while doing so they forget to tell you that it can happen anywhere. Some dogs handle heat even worse than others. German Spitzes are generally at risk because of their coats but not even all German Spitzes are the same. Unto has a profuse and dark coat, which means that he is even more prone to get heatstrokes than others.

This is a true story and it is told because I want to warn you. These are not just words on an internet site. This is the truth and I want you to be aware. Please, take care of your dog when it’s hot outside. Don’t take him for long walks in the middle of the day but don’t really let him play outside, either. Our little pooches don’t always know what’s best for them. When they are having fun they forget sometimes. You know how it is, don’t you?

Conclusion

I cannot stress enough how important this subject matter is. Heatstroke is serious and it should always be regarded as such. It should be obvious that leaving your dog in the car is out of the question, and it should be obvious that walking a dog on a hot day is not a good idea. But I really want you to know that you should be careful even when you are at your own home.

Study the symptoms so if this happens to your dog you will know what to do. I think Unto survived just because I was able to start first aid in a matter of seconds. I was lucky because I had water there, but I also knew what to do. I was prepared. You should not put ice cold water on your dog, nor should you ever water the dog entirely; just the stomach, legs and ears at first.

Summer is a tough time. There are so many dangers starting with snakes and ticks and the heat. At the same time it is the most beautiful time and we should be able to enjoy it. Luckily, there are ways we can alleviate the lives of our furry friends.

Let’s try to help our German Spitzes the best that we can. Let’s take care of them and let’s offer them everything we can. A dog’s life is short and he should be able to enjoy it. It is our job to try to protect them and to offer them the best life that they can possibly get.

Let’s take care of our pooches. I know I will, from now on even better than before.   

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