Protecting Our K9 Partners

Rex_K9_blogK9 units are a valued strength to the law enforcement community because they provide invaluable skills to their agencies, such as performing search and rescue missions, conducting criminal pursuits, and enabling drug seizures. They are considered a member of the police force and their human partners have a commitment to protect them from harm.

Within the last five years, there has been 60 K9 line-of-duty deaths according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. Of these deaths, 21% were caused by heat exhaustion, which is the second leading cause of death behind firearms. Heat exhaustion is not only a serious concern for law enforcement officers in the summertime, but also for K9s. It is important to recognize early signs of heat exhaustion in your K9, and how to treat it as well as knowing ways to prevent it in the first place. Heat exhaustion in K9s can lead to long-term internal damages and even death, if not treated immediately and effectively.

Signs that your K9 may be suffering from heat exhaustion include:

  • Unusual breathing (rapid and loud panting)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Thick saliva
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Tongue appears bright red and gums appear pale
  • Glazed eyes
  • Disorientation

If the symptoms go untreated, it may lead to a coma, seizures, or death. If you notice your K9 suffering from the above symptoms, go to the veterinarian immediately. Get your dog to a shady or indoor cool place. You may give your dog a small amount of water to drink and a wet towel to wrap around its body, but do not use ice or extremely cold water, because it can make the symptoms worse. Try and get the dog’s body temperature to fall below 104⁰.

In order for you and your K9 to enjoy the summer, here are a few tips for keeping your dog safe and healthy in the heat:

  • Make sure your dog has water accessible at all times
  • Try and keep your dog in the shade when possible
  • Be cautious on hot pavement; your dog can burn its paws which can lead to overheating
  • Never leave your dog alone in a car; even a few minutes can be life-threatening
  • Limit strenuous activities and exercise during the hottest part of the day
  • Avoid the use of a muzzle since a dog manages temperature through panting

It is the IACP’s position that no injury to, or death of, a law enforcement professional is acceptable, and the IACP Center for Officer Safety and Wellness strives to improve awareness on all aspects of officer safety, including our K9 partners. To learn more and to share best practices pertaining to officer safety and wellness please visit or contact the Center staff at

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