Heatstroke in Dogs: Signs, Treatment and Prevention

Published August 2, 2022
Owner helping his pug dog on street in hot day

If you're burning up on a hot summer day, there's a good chance your fur-covered dog is feeling even warmer. Heat stroke in dogs is a dangerous condition that all pet owners should be aware of. It occurs when a dog's body temperature reaches 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher as a result of increased ambient temperature. This can happen if a dog is left in a car, when walking outside on a warm day, or in a yard without adequate shade, among other scenarios. Because this condition can affect any dog in any region, it's critical to know how to treat heatstroke in dogs along with techniques to prevent this life-threatening issue.

What Is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog's internal body temperature rises above 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Dogs don't sweat to cool their bodies in the way humans do; they use panting as their cooling system. However, in warm weather or confined areas, such as the inside of a car, it can be challenging or impossible for a dog to cool themselves.

Despite attempts to thermoregulate through panting, they simply can't rid themselves of the heat. This leads to a rapid increase in their internal temperature, which can damage organs, interfere with blood clotting, and result in death without treatment. A dog can develop heat stroke in as little as 10 minutes.

Causes of Heat-related Illnesses

Heat stroke is often viewed as a summertime danger, yet it can occur any time of year. Even if it doesn't feel particularly hot, an abrupt change in the surrounding temperature can trigger heat stroke. That means your dog could be at risk of overheating on the first warm day of spring, even if the temperature isn't high. Specific scenarios that can cause heat stroke include the following:

Dog waiting in car looking through seat
  • Confinement within a vehicle, regardless of the outside temperature
  • Being outside on a hot day
  • Overexertion through exercise
  • Lack of access to water
  • Being left outside without shade
  • Exposure to a heat-producing dryer
  • Being in a highly stressful situation
  • Wearing a muzzle for an extended period

Dogs at High Risk for Heat Stroke

Any dog is susceptible to heat stroke. However, some are at higher risk than others. Flat-faced dogs, referred to as brachycephalic, are more likely to overheat than other breeds. This is because these dogs have even more difficulty cooling off than other breeds due to the structure of their upper airway. This includes the Pug, Bulldog, French Bulldog, Shi Tzu, Boston Terrier, Brussels Griffon, Boxer, Cane Corso, and Japanese Chin. Of all dog breeds, Chow Chows reportedly have the highest incidence of heat-related illnesses.

Dog suffering from heat stroke

Dog with dark-colored coats, which readily absorb heat from the sun, are at higher risk of heat stroke. Being overweight, out of shape, ill, older, very young, or anxious are additional risk factors for overheating.

Dog Heat Stroke Symptoms

Dogs suffering from heat stroke or heat exhaustion will show a few or more of the following signs. As the internal temperature rises and the condition worsens, symptoms become more severe.

Dog heat stroke symptoms infographic
  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Sticky saliva
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (with blood or without)
  • Red tongue and gum color
  • Gum bruising
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

Immediate Steps to Take for Dog Heat Stroke

If you believe your dog is overheating or experiencing heat stroke, it's critical to take immediate action.

  • Immediately move your dog out of the sun to a cool, shaded, ventilated area.
  • Apply cool water to your dog's limbs and body. Spray water directly onto them, aiming to make contact with the skin through the fur, or place water-soaked towels on their body. Actively cooling your dog on the way to the veterinary hospital can significantly improve their prognosis. Never submerge your dog in water if you suspect overheating or heat stroke.
  • Avoid ice packs or cold water, which can cause vasoconstriction and inhibit cooling. Remember, a dog's temperature is above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so even lukewarm water is much cooler than their core temperature.
  • If your dog is conscious and alert, you can offer them some water to sip. However, do not pour water in their mouth if they are unwilling to drink.
  • Immediately head to your veterinarian's office to have your dog examined for further treatment.
  • If you can take your dog's temperature en route, monitor it closely and discontinue cooling remedies once it reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid hypothermia.

Treatment Approach

Even after your dog's temperature returns to normal range, treatment to stabilize them and address any internal damage is necessary. However, how your veterinarian chooses to treat your dog for heat stroke will depend heavily on their condition. Even mild cases of heat stroke typically require intravenous fluid therapy to rehydrate them.

Some dogs, particularly those with obstructed airways like brachycephalic breeds, require oxygen support. Your vet may recommend intravenous medication to treat the gastrointestinal tract or reduce intracranial pressure, and those who experience blood clotting complications may need one or multiple transfusions. Dogs who lose consciousness from heat stroke will need more complex treatment plans, though the outcome is not always positive.

Tips to Prevent Heat Stroke

The best way to protect your dog from the dangers of heat stroke is prevention. Implement these tips to keep your dog cool and safe:

Golden retriever fan cooling in the garden
  • Do not leave your dog unattended in a vehicle.
  • Ensure your dog has constant access to shade and fresh water outdoors and inside.
  • Avoid over-exercising your pet, particularly when temperatures are high.
  • In the summer, elect for walks in the early morning or late evening (avoiding peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
  • Avoid taking brachycephalic dogs for walks on hot days.
  • Use water to cool your dog when engaging in outdoor recreation on warm days.
  • Do not leave your dog outdoors on hot days.
  • Use a well-ventilated crate for travel.

Dangers of Heat Stroke in Dogs

Heat stroke is a dangerous condition that can transpire very rapidly. While it is most likely to occur on hot days during the summer, it's essential to keep a watchful eye for the signs of heat stroke year-round. However, with intentional preventive measures, you can keep your dog feeling cool and comfortable.

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Heatstroke in Dogs: Signs, Treatment and Prevention