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Heat Rash on Dogs: How to Recognize and Treat It

Dog lying in the sun
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Severity: i Low - Medium
Life stage: All

Most pet parents are familiar with examining their dog’s skin and coat on a regular basis, whether they’re feeling for lumps and bumps or checking for fleas and ticks after a wooded walk. In hot and humid weather, dogs can be more prone to certain skin-related issues, such as yeast infections and hot spots. But can dogs get heat rash like humans? Here’s what you need to know about heat rash on dogs.

Can Dogs Get Heat Rash?

Simply put, yes, dogs can get heat rash. Heat rash in dogs is certainly more frequent in the warmer months but can also occur from inappropriate use of warming devices (e.g., heating pads) or other direct sources of heat at any time of the year. 

If exposed to hot conditions for too long, any dog could contract a heat rash. However, dogs who have less fur, more skin folds, and shorter snouts (brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs, and Shih-tzus) are more susceptible to this condition. 

Dogs with shorter snouts have a harder time cooling themselves off due to narrowed airways and less effective panting. Areas on the body with less fur also create an easier entryway for heat and can lead to inappropriate temperature regulation. The skin folds can trap moisture and heat, especially if the dog is overweight. This can often cause secondary skin conditions if not treated promptly, as well as contribute to generalized temperature increase in the dog. 

Along with certain breed and physical predispositions, dogs in hotter and more humid climates also find themselves more susceptible to heat rash.

What Does Heat Rash Look Like on Dogs?

Itchy French Bulldog

Heat rash can present itself differently in dogs based on severity. In the beginning, heat rash often emerges as small red bumps on a dog’s skin and can be quite itchy and irritating to the pet. Generalized redness can also be noted, with a heavier focus in the affected area. 

Common areas for heat rash in dogs to begin include the groin and “armpit” areas, as well as the belly where there are sparse amounts of fur. These spots are prone to harboring more heat and moisture as a dog’s temperature rises. Pet parents should check these areas first if concerned about potential heat rash in dogs. If left to progress, these smaller areas of irritation can turn into larger raised sections and can even turn into more painful boils and blisters. 

The progression of red bumps to blisters indicates that a dog’s heat rash is now classified as a second-degree burn, versus first-degree upon initial presentation. Once the skin is compromised, it is much easier for dogs with heat rash to then suffer from secondary skin infections, which may cause pustules and widespread irritation.

It may be hard for pet parents to distinguish between a heat rash on their dog versus other skin concerns. Here are some questions that may help:

  • Has your pet been outdoors in the heat/elements for an extended period of time? Or has your pet been exposed to a heating device of any kind?
  • Does your dog have any predispositions for overheating, such as a short snout, skin folds, or being overweight?
  • Has your dog gotten into contact with other potential irritants or possible causes of skin rash that you are aware of?

Other Symptoms Associated with Dog Heat Rash

In addition to clinical symptoms with the skin, a dog may have heat rash if experiencing other symptoms of overheating (hyperthermia) at the same time.

If you notice your dog panting incessantly, breathing noisily, being unable to settle, and having bright red gums (gingiva), then it is likely your pet could be overheating, hence the appearance of the heat rash. The normal gum color should be bubble-gum pink, unless your dog has pigmented gums. If your dog has pigmented gums, you can examine the coloration inside their eyelids (conjunctiva). 

If you have a way to check your dog’s temperature, you would likely find that it is elevated. A normal dog temperature is 100-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the situation and stress level. Signs of heat rash in dogs can occur beyond these temperatures, and the risk of complications also increases along with the heat. If your dog’s temperature is equal to or beyond 103 degrees Fahrenheit and not trending downward despite cooling efforts, you should seek veterinary care immediately.

Heat Rash on Dogs: Diagnosis and Treatment

Veterinarian checks a dog's temperature

In cases of heat rash in dogs, pet parents can implement therapy at home to start soothing the problem. Focus on removing your dog from the heat source/environment, cooling them down, and soothing the affected skin with a hydrocortisone cream and/or aloe until you can seek further veterinary care. You can use cool wet towels and fans for this. Do not submerge your dog in ice cold water or something similarly drastic. 

It is still recommended to have your pet seen by a veterinarian in order to discuss potential complications from the heat rash and treat it accordingly if your dog is not showing improvement with at-home intervention. 

In the clinic, the veterinarian will perform a full physical examination to determine whether the dog is suffering from heat rash. This will include visualizing susceptible areas of skin for redness and bumps, as well as assessing gum color and the dog’s temperature. 

In non-complicated cases of heat rash, the veterinarian may prescribe a prescription-strength, hydrocortisone-type cream or spray to aid inflammation and itchiness in the affected areas after the dog is cooled down to an appropriate temperature. The veterinarian may attempt to cool the dog off by applying alcohol to the paw pads, applying a cool towel in the “armpits” and groin, or using an air-circulator such as a Bair Hugger on the cool setting.

If the dog has any secondary complications from the heat rash, such as a skin infection or itchiness (pruritus), then this may need to be treated with separate oral therapy, depending on severity, such as with an antibiotic and/or antihistamine. 

Mild cases of heat rash in dogs can resolve on their own with at-home therapy over the course of several days, but if not improving should be evaluated by a veterinarian. If the dog is showing signs of systemic hyperthermia or not cooling down in a reasonable amount of time, seek veterinary care immediately to avoid damage to internal organs and structures.

How to Prevent Heat Rash on Dogs

Pet parent wets a dog's coat outside

Keeping your dog in an environment that is not overly hot or humid will greatly help reduce the risk of heat rash and associated complications. 

During warmer months, consider taking walks and exercising with your dog earlier in the morning or later in the evening to avoid peak heat hours. Wetting your dog’s coat and fanning during activity may help maintain cooler body temperature as well. Dogs should have access to plenty of fresh water, shade, and other ways to cool themselves off at all times. 

The most important tool in preventing heat rash on dogs is understanding the risk factors and minimizing potential for occurrence.