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Heat Stroke in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

With longer days and more pleasant weather, summertime means more fun outdoors with your canine pal. Or does it? When you’re planning your dog’s summer activities or even when you’re simply going about your routine with Fido, keep in mind that your dog is more prone to heat stroke than you are; some dog breeds are more at risk for heat stroke than others. If you do not recognize the symptoms right away, the condition can become fatal. 

How can you keep your best bud safe when temperatures rise during summer? Here’s everything you need to know about heat stroke in dogs. 

Heat Stroke in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke or hyperthermia occurs when the body’s temperature increases well beyond normal levels due to exposure to extreme heat from the environment. In dogs, a body temperature above 103°F (39.4°C) puts them at great risk for heat stroke. A body temperature of around 107°F to 109°F (41.2°C to 42.7°C) is the critical level and can quickly lead to multiple organ failure and death. 

The most common cause of death from heat stroke is when a dog is left inside a car with zero or inadequate ventilation. Even if the outside temperature is not too high and even if you leave him with some water, the temperature inside the car can quickly rise to dangerous levels within minutes. 

Dogs only have sweat glands in their foot pads, which means they are not able to adequately control their body temperature through sweating. The primary means by which they regulate their body temperature is through panting. If a dog is left inside a hot car, his core body temperature will become dangerously elevated and he can die from heatstroke within six to 15 minutes

Other causes of heatstroke in dogs:

  • Being left out in the yard on a hot day for a long period without access to shade or water. 
  • Excessive or vigorous exercise during hot and/or humid weather. 
  • A hot, humid, and/or poorly ventilated environment, especially after exercise.
  • Exposure to a hair dryer for a prolonged period. 
  • Being muzzled for an extended period as their panting becomes restricted.
  • A predisposition due to physiology, such as brachycephaly or having a flat face and restricted airway (common among boxers, bulldogs, and pugs). Even moderate levels of heat and humidity can cause heat stroke in these brachycephalic breeds. 
  • Being overweight or obese. 
  • A fever-causing infection, seizures, or severe muscle spasms. 
Heat Stroke in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

Symptoms of heat stroke in dogs:

  • Increasingly rapid panting
  • Excessive drooling or salivation
  • Bright red tongue
  • Abnormally red or pale gums
  • Agitation 
  • Dizziness and unsteadiness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea, which may have blood
  • Signs of confusion
  • Weakness and general malaise
  • Muscle tremors or seizures
  • Collapse or inability to get up
  • Little to no urine production
  • Coma 

What is the emergency treatment for heat stroke?

As soon as you notice any sign of heat stroke, give your dog emergency treatment to help lower his body temperature. This includes:

  • Immediately remove your dog from the hot environment. 
  • Spraying cool water on Fido’s head, stomach, armpits, and feet, placing a cool, wet towel on his body; or submerging him in water. 
  • Applying rubbing alcohol to his footpads to dilate pores and increase perspiration.
  • Placing him in front of a fan, near the ac vent, or even the open door of your fridge.
  • Placing ice around his mouth and anus.  
  • Taking your fur kid to the nearest vet clinic immediately. 
Heat Stroke in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

How can you protect your dog from heat stroke?

Don’ts

  • Do not leave your dog alone inside the car when the weather is hot and humid, no matter how “quick” your errand is; even if you’ll leave the window open a crack and he has water; and regardless of where you’re parking, whether it’s in a covered parking structure or an outdoor parking lot.  
  • Do not leave your pet outside for a prolonged period, not even at night, and especially when outside temperatures are predicted to go beyond 85 degrees. 
  • Do not take your dog out for a walk or run on asphalt or concrete that is too hot for your palms to touch. The same goes for the beach. 

Remember that even if you are able to tolerate the hot and humid temperatures, Fido is not as well-equipped to keep his body cool. 

Dos

  • Make sure Fido has easy access to clean water, 24/7. 
  • Make sure your dog is adequately hydrated when you take him outdoors. 
  • Limit play time and exercise to early mornings and/or early evenings. If it’s too hot outside, prepare indoor activities for your dog. 
  • Monitor your pet’s breathing and temperature when the heat/humidity index is well above normal and especially during and after an activity. Let Fido rest, cool down under a shade, and hydrate if he is panting more or has trouble keeping up with you, or both. 
  • When taking your best bud outside, opt for a grassy park, boardwalk, or shaded and woodsy trail. 
  • Get summer booties to protect your dog’s paws when he’s outside. 
  • Use dog-friendly sunblock to protect your furry friend from harmful UV rays, even if it’s cloudy outside. 
  • If you absolutely have to leave Fido outside, give him plenty of water in a bowl that he won’t be able to tip over and make sure he can seek shelter from the sun. Better yet, leave your dog with your neighbor. 

Additional tips to protect your dog from hot and humid weather:

  • Your dog can wear a cooling bandana, which should be wet, around his neck to help cool him down when you have to take him outside. 
  • Get him dog boots, especially if you live in the city, and taking him outside means walking on hot concrete/asphalt pavement. 
  • Keep all-natural paw balms in your emergency dog kit. These will soothe Fido’s paws after exposure to a hot surface. Look for naturally soothing ingredients, such as aloe, beeswax, olive oil, and shea butter. 
  • Invest in cooling mats, which Fido can use both indoors and outdoors. 
  • Cooling mats. These can be used both indoors and outdoors.  
Heat Stroke in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

Heat Stroke in Dogs - Final Thoughts

Heat stroke in dogs can become very serious very quickly. Know the symptoms and the emergency steps you need to take to treat your dog. Even if Fido shows signs of improvement after giving him first aid, you should still take him to the vet to make sure he is well. 

With the right preparation and by knowing the dos and don’ts when temperatures become too hot for your beloved pet, you can keep him safe from heat stroke.