Heat Stroke in Dogs: Signs and Symptoms

Heat Stroke in Dogs: Signs and Symptoms

Dog panting heavily from heat stroke

We’ve seen some extreme weather in Alberta over the last few years, and during the summer months, it’s not unusual to see numerous 30º+ days in the forecast. For many dogs, intense heat can often lead to a dangerous and potentially fatal situation, even for pooches with short coats.

Unlike the human body, which can efficiently cool itself by sweating and evaporation, dogs can only reduce their body heat through excessive panting or by perspiring via their nose or paw pads. On extremely hot days, dogs aren’t always able to cool themselves down enough, which can lead to a serious medical complication called heat stroke – a condition that can cause seizures, organ failure, and even death.

What is Heat Stroke?

Generally speaking, a dog’s normal core body temperature can be anywhere from 38 – 39°C (100.5 – 102.5°F). Heatstroke (also known as hyperthermia) is when a dog’s core temperature gets higher than 41°C (105.8°F), and the dog’s internal cooling system can’t bring the body temperature back down to normal levels. This excessively high internal body temperature causes cells in the body to die and can lead to shock, organ failure, brain damage, and death if left untreated.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke?

On hot days, look for these symptoms to determine if your pet may have heat stroke:

  • Prolonged, heavy panting
  • Thick saliva
  • Excessive thirst
  • Bright or dark red tongue and gums
  • Weakness, staggering, and confusion
  • Vomiting and bloody diarrhea
  • Glazed eyes
  • Rapid pulse and heartbeat
  • Excessive drooling
  • Seizures
  • Rectal temperature of 42º (107º F) or higher
  • Unconsciousness
If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, we recommend taking them to the nearest emergency vet hospital for immediate treatment.

What Risk Factors Contribute to Heat Stroke in Dogs?

While all dogs are susceptible to heat stroke, there are certain risk factors that make it more likely that your pet will be affected, including:

  • Having a short-nosed and flat-faced (brachycephalic) dog breed
  • A pet that has an underlying heart or lung condition
  • A pet with a thick coat of fur
  • A dog that is overweight or obese
  • A senior or geriatric dog or a young puppy

How to Treat Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is an emergency situation, so you need to act quickly to increase your pup’s chance of survival and minimize long-term complications. If you notice any of the symptoms of heat stroke in your pet, we recommend taking them to the nearest emergency vet clinic for immediate treatment.

You’ll want to try to lower his core body temperature on the way to the emergency clinic, and one way to help cool him down is by wetting your dog with cool or lukewarm water and blowing a fan on him or turning on the air conditioner. DO NOT USE ICE WATER TO COOL YOUR PET. Using extremely cold water or ice water in an attempt to cool him causes the blood vessels in the body to constrict, which will slow down blood flow and also slow the cooling process. You can, however, apply cold packs to the groin area and his paw pads to help speed up his internal cooling process. You can also cool him down by applying isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol to his paw pads, under the front armpit area, and on the groin to help with evaporative cooling.

Ways To Prevent Heat Stroke in Dogs

There are many ways to prevent your dog from having heat stroke. Here are a few tips to help keep your pup cool, even on the hottest summer days:

  • Make sure your dog has plenty of fresh, clean water at all times. You can help keep the water cool throughout the day by freezing blocks of ice and placing it in multiple water bowls throughout their space
  • NEVER leave your dog unattended in a car on days – even with the windows down or in a shaded spot. Pets left in hot cars is the leading cause of heat stroke.
  • Excercise your dog during the coolest part of the day, especially during the summer months.
  • If you must leave your dog outdoors during extremely hot weather, make sure they have lots of shade and shelter from the sun.

If you’re looking for ways to keep your pet cool on hot days, you’ll want to check out this article – 5 Tips To Help Your Dog Beat the Heat

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