Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs and How to Avoid

by Amy DeYoung

Keep reading to learn about dog heat stroke signs and how to avoid it.

The sun is out, and there’s nothing more your pup wants to do than get outside, enjoy the fresh air, chase after a ball or hike with their favorite person, you. 

We want enjoying the sunshine to be fun for everyone involved. Unfortunately, dogs are bad at dissipating heat. Unlike humans, dogs don’t sweat to release heat but pant. If dogs can’t eliminate heat fast enough through panting, their body temperature will continue to rise to dangerous levels. 

Keep reading to learn about heat stroke, dog heat stroke signs, how to avoid heat stroke, and much more to keep summer outings fun and safe for your dog. 

What is Heat Stroke?

According to the Veterinary Centers of America, heat stroke in dogs occurs when their body temperature rises above 106 degrees Fahrenheit without prior signs of other illnesses and, typically, exposure to environmental or external heat. If a dog’s temperature rises to between 107 and 109 degrees Fahrenheit, they can experience multiple organ failure or worse.  

Common Dog Heat Stroke Signs

Some of the most common dog heat stroke signs include: 

  • Elevated body temperature
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Skin that is hot to the touch
  • Excessive panting and drooling (in an attempt to cool down)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Bright red gums and tongue 
  • Seizures or tremors
  • Weakness or Collapse

How to Treat Heat Stroke in Dogs 

Heat stroke treatment involves lowering your dog’s temperature immediately to help them cool down so their body temperature doesn’t continue to rise. Taking immediate action can mean the difference between a complete recovery and your dog facing long-term complications. 

Here are some of the best ways to help your dog cool down: 

  • Take them inside immediately and sit them underneath an air conditioner or fan blowing cool air. 
  • Spray or sponge your dog with cool (never cold) water, focusing on their underbelly. If you have a cool pad for your dog, this is another excellent way to help them cool down quickly. You can also place a cool wet towel on their neck and back. 
  • Provide your dog with small amounts of cool water to drink. 
  • Take your dog’s temperature with a rectal thermometer to check their internal temperature. 
  • Call your dog’s veterinarian to determine your next steps. 

If your dog shows severe signs of heat stroke, such as seizures or collapse, immediately take them to the nearest veterinarian or animal hospital. 

What Causes Heat Stroke in Dogs?

The most common cause of hyperthermia, or heat stroke, in dogs is when dogs are left behind in a car without proper ventilation. Many pet parents don’t realize how hot the inside of a car can get, even when it’s not that warm outside. 

According to The Humane Society of the United States, a relatively low temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit causes the inside of a car to heat up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit within one hour. Higher temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit and up can quickly cause the inside of a car to heat up to the high 90s in only 10 minutes. Unfortunately, many pet parents believe that rolling down the windows is sufficient, but this has been proven ineffective. 

As a result, pet owners should never leave their pets unattended in a car, even if it’s just to run inside for a few groceries. Not only is it dangerous to your dog’s health, but it is also illegal in many states. 

Other common causes of heat stroke in dogs include: 

1. Dogs left outside without water or access to shade on hot days

2. Vigorous or excessive exercise outdoors during hot temperatures

3. Overexcitement while outside on a hot day

4. Exposure to a hair dryer for long periods of time

Some dogs are also at a heightened risk of developing heat stroke depending on factors like age, physical fitness, and breed. 

Consider if your dog might be at a higher risk of heat stroke based on the following factors: 

- Brachycephalic syndrome: Flat-faced dogs like boxers and bulldogs are at an increased risk of heat stroke because their breathing is already compromised, hindering their ability to cool down.

- Age: Puppies and older dogs are at a greater risk.

- Weight and physical fitness: Dogs that are out of shape or overweight are more likely to suffer from heat stroke.

- Dogs with impaired breathing: For example, a dog who is muzzled or diagnosed with a respiratory condition is at a higher risk of heat stroke.

- Sudden climate changes: If you move to a much warmer climate, your dog may experience heat stress from the sudden temperature change. 

- Medical conditions: Some conditions like hypothyroidism, laryngeal paralysis, and cardiac disease may contribute to how susceptible your dog is to heat stroke. 

Preventing Heat Stroke in Dogs

Prevention is always ideal, and there are many steps you can take to help your dog avoid heat stroke. 

Here are our top tips for helping your dog stay safe and healthy this summer: 

- Avoid hot environments: External heat is the most common cause of heat stroke in dogs, so if your dog is kept inside at a comfortable temperature or, at minimum, provided with plenty of shade and water while outside, this will reduce their risk of heat stroke. 

- Exercise your dog when it’s cooler: Consider changing your routine so that you and your dog walk, hike, play, or run in the morning or at night when it is cooler. 

- Provide them with plenty of water: Shade and water make a huge difference for your dog and their ability to cool down. Invest in a collapsible water bowl for your dog so you can provide them with water on the go. 

- Recognize your dog’s limitations: Most dogs aim to please their owners and are willing to push their limits to keep up with you. When you’re outside with your dog, pay close attention to how heavy they are panting and take breaks to keep things safe and fun for your pup. 

- Choose smart travel accommodations: Many dog owners keep their dogs in crates while they drive. Double-check that the crate has good ventilation to keep your dog at a comfortable temperature, and, of course, never leave your dog unattended in a car with no AC. 

By planning ahead and paying attention to your dog’s condition while you’re outside this summer, you’ll be able to keep your time outdoors fun and safe for everyone!

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