How to Recognize and Treat Heat Stroke in Dogs

Spending a lot of time in the sun with your pup? Be sure to know the signs of heatstroke in dogs and what to do if you think your dog is experiencing heatstroke. Today, our vets at Animal General share the symptoms of this potentially fatal condition and tips for how to prevent heatstroke in your dog.

What is heatstroke in dogs?

Heatstroke (also known as prostration or hyperthermia) is defined as an increase in core body temperature caused by environmental conditions. Normally, a dog's temperature runs from 99-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If your dog's body temperature rises above 105, immediate veterinary care is required. Heatstroke is an extremely serious condition that can be fatal or cause permanent organ damage. 

Why do dogs get heat stroke?

Dogs are perceptible to heatstroke because they can't sweat to cool themselves down. Dogs will pant to regulate their body temperature, but this may not be sufficient in extreme temperatures and can result in heatstroke. 

The most common cause of heatstroke in dogs is leaving them in a car without proper ventilation. The onset of heatstroke can be rapid and even on cooler days, the internal temperature of a car can skyrocket as much as 40 degrees within an hour! 

Other causes of heatstroke include forgetting to provide adequate water for your pet and being outside for prolonged periods of time in the heat without proper shade. 

Any type of dog can suffer from heatstroke but certain breeds are more susceptible. Dogs with thick fur or short noses tend to fare worse in warm conditions. Dogs with underlying medical conditions (such as being overweight) are also more susceptible to heatstroke. 

What are the signs of heatstroke in dogs?

The most common heatstroke symptoms in dogs to look out for are: 

  • Excessive panting 
  • Drooling 
  • Reddened or bruised looking gums 
  • Vomiting 
  • Disorientation or uncoordinated movement 
  • Weakness or fatigue 
  • Collapse 

What should I do if I think my dog has heatstroke?

Heatstroke is a serious condition, if your dog is displaying any of the above symptoms the first thing you should do is get them out of the heat immediately.

Cool down your dog by placing them in the shade or an air-conditioned space if it is available. Allow them to drink cool water. If they are uninterested in the water you can gently wet their gums and tongue. Do not force them to drink water. 

If possible put your dog under a cool (not cold) stream of water or soak towels and place them on your dog's abdomen. Wetting their feet with cool water will also help to bring down their internal temperature. 

Even if responding well to treatment it is important to contact the nearest emergency vet. Heatstroke can cause abnormal blood clotting, swelling of the brain, and kidney failure and should be treated by a veterinarian whenever possible.  

How is heatstroke in dogs treated?

Reducing your dog's internal temperature will be the primary focus of your vet. They may pour cool water over your dog's head, body, and feet or apply cool wet cloths. They may also apply Rubbing Alcohol to your dog's feet. Dogs perspire through their paws and alcohol can speed up this process. 

If necessary for your dog, heatstroke treatment can also include intravenous fluids, mild sedation, and low-concentration oxygen therapy. 

Your vet will monitor your dog's vital signs (like blood pressure) to ensure there are no secondary complications.

What can I do to prevent my dog from developing heatstroke?

When it comes to the health and wellbeing of your pup, preventing heatstroke from ever happening is key. Prevent symptoms of heatstroke in dogs by following the tips below:

  • Never leave your dog alone in a car. 
  • Know your dog's level of heatstroke risk! Take extra precautions with dog breeds that have an increased risk. 
  • Try not to let your dog stay outside for prolonged periods of time on hot sunny days. If they must be outside, be sure to provide plenty of water and shade. A kiddie pool is a great way for your dog to stay cool! Special cooling vests are also available for dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors. 
  • Working dogs are very focused on the task at hand and may not take time to rest. Enforce breaks for working dogs to allow them time to cool down (even if they don't want to). 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

Is your dog showing signs of heatstroke? Visit our Emergency Care page for information on where to receive urgent veterinary care for your pet. 

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