Summer Safety: How To Spot Heatstroke in Dogs

by Sydney Hess

Dog panting while outside by lake

Unfortunately, no dog is immune to having a heatstroke. Here's the signs and tips for prevention.

With the arrival of warmer days, it's essential for pet owners to stay vigilant about the risk of heatstroke for their furry friends. When it comes to heat-induced illness in dogs, time is of the essence and it’s important to be aware of the risks. 

What is heatstroke? 

Heatstroke, also known as "hyperthermia," occurs when the body's internal temperature rises to a dangerous level. For dogs, a normal internal temperature typically ranges between 101-102°F, while a hypothermic dog may reach temperatures between 103-105°F.

To cool themselves off and regulate their body temperature, dogs rely primarily on panting rather than sweating like humans. Panting takes longer to regulate temperature and is less efficient at dissipating heat because it relies on the rapid exchange of air in the respiratory system, rather than evaporative cooling through sweating. 

Additionally, many dogs are unaware of their limits in hot weather and need to be managed to prevent them from overexerting themselves. This lack of awareness, along with their limited cooling mechanisms, can be a dangerous combination as temperatures rise. Because of this, knowing the early signs of overheating in dogs is essential. 

Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke in dogs

Heat exhaustion is the initial phase of heat stroke. While a dog’s body temperature hasn’t yet reached the critical levels to be classified as a heat stroke, it is likely to progress if action is not taken.  

Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke exhibit similar symptoms, with the most noticeable including: 

  • Excessive panting 
  • Drooling 
  • Inability to continue walking or playing 
  • Warmer than normal skin temperature 
  • Bright red gums 
  • Vomiting
  • Elevated internal temperature 
  • Lethargy

What dogs are most susceptible to heatstroke? 

Unfortunately, no dog is immune to having a heatstroke. Pets that fall under the following categories may be at an increased risk of developing heat exhaustion or a heatstroke:

  • Young puppies 
  • Seniors 
  • Overweight or obese pets 
  • Brachycephalic (short nose) pets 
  • Pets with heart or breathing conditions 
  • Pets that exercise excessively in the heat  

What can you do if you suspect a heatstroke in your dog? 

If you suspect your pet is beginning to overheat, you will want to take immediate action to prevent heat exhaustion from progressing to a full blown heatstroke. Some actions to take include:

  • Move your pet to a shaded area or indoors if possible.
  • Offer drinking water, but don’t allow them to chug.
  • Begin to wet their body down with cool, but not cold, water.
  • Evaluate the severity of their symptoms. If you suspect they may be having a heatstroke, get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. 

Heat stress and mild heat exhaustion may be able to be treated at home, but when it comes to heat induced illness it is better to be safe than sorry.

Heatstroke prevention for dogs

Prevention is the best medicine, so keeping your pup from overheating in the first place is the best method to avoid the consequences of a heatstroke. Keep in mind:

  • Never leave your pup unattended in a warm or hot car. 
  • Avoid exercising your pup during the hottest part of the day.
  • Always offer plenty of water and encourage your pup to take breaks.
  • There are many ways to exercise your pup, and it may be helpful to take advantage of alternative summer activities. Swimming, for example, is not only great for joints but is an excellent method for preventing heat stress! 

Try Healthy, Easy Sundays