Overview

Severity: Medium - High
Life stage: Puppy, Adult, Senior
  • Yes, dogs can suffer from heat stroke and if it’s left untreated or it cannot be controlled, it could be deadly.
  • Heat stroke in dogs is caused by an elevated body temperature.
  • As soon as you recognize a sign of your dog overheating, you must take immediate action to start cooling them down. Active cooling is the primary treatment for heat stroke in dogs.
  • NEVER, under any circumstances, leave your pet in a parked car—not even in the shade with the windows rolled down.

As the weather gets nice, and we and our dogs are outside and more active in the spring and summer seasons, there is an important risk we need to watch out for in our canine companions—heat stroke.

This is a dangerous condition for our dogs and if it’s left untreated or it cannot be controlled, it could be deadly.

Let’s look at what causes heat stroke in dogs, how to recognize the signs and symptoms, and what you need to do to get your dog help quickly.

Can Dogs Get Heat Stroke?

Yes, dogs can suffer from heat stroke. This happens because dogs don’t sweat like humans.

Dogs regulate their body temperatures mainly through panting. Although dogs have a few sweat glands—mostly on their paw pads—panting is the primary way their bodies release heat. When panting is not enough to bring down their temperature, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can occur.

Some dogs are at higher risk of developing heat stroke if they are older or overweight. Certain breeds are also more prone to it, due to their physical make-up. These mostly include brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs, or Boston Terriers.

Dogs with underlying medical conditions, such as laryngeal paralysis, respiratory issues, or cardiac disease are also at higher risk. Dogs with thick coats or working dogs that over-exert themselves should also be monitored closely for signs of heat stroke.

What Causes Heat Stroke in Dogs?

Dog in the sun panting

Heat stroke in dogs is caused by an elevated body temperature. This happens, primary, because of elevated environmental temperatures or over-exertion during exercise. Dogs may also overheat and experience heat stroke if left in hot cars, left in overheated, non-ventilated rooms, or even left outside without shade or fresh, cool water to drink.

When the surrounding environment gets hot, and a dog’s body temperature rises, they release excess heat through open mouth breathing, or panting. When panting is not enough to bring down their temperature, and their internal body temperature rises above 103 degrees, they go into heat exhaustion.

If their temperature continues to rise above 106 degrees they are at risk of heat stroke.

Although these temperatures may seem high, keep in mind that a dog’s regular body temperature ranges from about 100-102.5 degrees. So, heat stroke can occur if a dog’s body temperature rises by just a few degrees.

Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs

Dog dizzy in the sun

Signs of heat stroke in dogs are usually easy to spot, and pet parents who notice these signs should act quickly to cool dogs down and get help.

Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Drooling
  • Reddened gums
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mental dullness
  • Dizziness or lack of coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Collapse

What to Do if You Think Your Dog Has Heat Stroke

Dog drinking water in the shade

As soon as you recognize a sign of your dog overheating, you must take immediate action to start cooling them down.

Step 1: Immediately move your dog to a cooler area. This may be into the shade, under a fan, or indoors into air conditioning.

Step 2: If possible, take your dog’s temperature. Most thermometers used for humans will work. Do not use a glass thermometer or a thermometer meant to take temperature from the ear or forehead. Gently lift your dog’s tail and place the thermometer about half an inch into your dog’s anus (the butt). Hold it there until the thermometer beeps, or indicates it is done reading. If the temperature is between 103-106 degrees, they are in heat exhaustion. If it is above 106 degrees, they are at risk of heat stroke. Contact your veterinarian immediately if the temperature is above 103 degrees.

Step 3: Try to bring your dog’s temperature down. You can soak towels or washcloths in cool water and wet your dog down. Place the cool wet cloths on the neck, armpits, and between your dog’s hind legs. You can also gently wet the ears and paw pads with cool water. Do NOT put your dog in an ice bath, as a dog’s temperature must be brought down gradually.

Step 4: Offer cool, fresh water to drink, if they are able to and conscious enough to drink on their own. Your dog should be able to lift his head and be sitting up for it to be safe to offer water to drink. Do not force your dog to drink. Do not feed ice cubes or use ice water, as it may drop a dog’s body temperature too quickly.

Step 5: Get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as you can and be sure to keep the windows of the car open or the air conditioning on.

If your dog has collapsed or is unconscious, rush your dog to an emergency veterinarian right away. On your way to the emergency room, try to cool your dog’s body temperature by using wet towels.

Diagnosing Heat Stroke in Dogs

Dog at vet having temperature taken

Heat stroke is usually diagnosed by taking a detailed history of what the dog was doing prior to developing symptoms. Veterinarians will ask what environment the dog was in, whether the dog was exercising, and whether your dog had shade or water.

A veterinarian will also obtain an accurate body temperature. If the temperature is above 106 degrees, heat stroke is diagnosed.

This condition can cause many serious effects in the body, such as kidney failure, development of neurologic symptoms, abnormal blood clotting, changes in blood pressure, and electrolyte abnormalities. Severe cases may cause organ shutdown, cardiac arrest, and death.

Your veterinarian may suggest running blood work to look for any internal damage and to determine what supportive care is needed.

How to Treat Heat Stroke in Dogs

Owner giving dog water in a field in summer

Active cooling is the primary treatment for heat stroke in dogs. The quicker you pick up on the signs that your dog is in trouble, and can begin the cooling process, the better the chances of your dog’s recovery.

When brought into your veterinarian or the emergency clinic, intravenous fluids may be administered to your dog in order to help support hydration levels and bring down his body temperature.

Supportive care will be administered throughout the recovery process. Your dog will be monitored for all vital functions, such as respiratory rate, heart rate and function, and blood pressure.

Depending on the severity of the condition, additional medical treatments or support may be needed. They may need cardiac (heart) support, gastrointestinal support, or even neurological support.

Prognosis for dogs experiencing heat exhaustion and heat stroke is most dependent on how quickly the dog gets treatment and the highest body temperature experienced. When the body temperature reaches 109.4 degrees, organ damage and high mortality are seen.

Preventing Heat Stroke in Dogs

Dog resting in the shade

Because heat stroke is such a dangerous condition for dogs, prevention is key. You can help keep your dog from overheating with some basic safety practices.

To prevent heat stroke in dogs:

  • Limit exercise or outdoor activity on excessively hot or humid days. Make sure your dog takes breaks when he is panting heavily, even if he doesn’t want to.
  • Provide plenty of shade and water when your dog is outdoors.
  • If your home does not have air conditioning, ensure a flow of fresh air at cooler times of the day, block out sunlight and have plenty of water available at all times.

NEVER, under any circumstances, leave your pet in a parked car—not even in the shade with the windows rolled down. On mild days with temperatures in the 70s, the inside of a parked car can reach 120 degrees in minutes, making this an extremely dangerous environment for dogs, even for a short time.

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