Heatstroke In Dogs: What You Should Know

Whether you enjoy hot temperatures all year or just a few summer months, every pet caretaker needs to know about heatstroke in dogs. Today, our Boulder vets share the symptoms of this potentially deadly condition, and what you should do if you think your dog has heatstroke.

What Is Heatstroke In Dogs?

Heatstroke (prostration or hyperthermia) is defined as an increase in core body temperature due to environmental conditions. Regularly, your dog's body temperature should be around 99-102.5° Fahrenheit. If your dog's body temperature rises above 105°F, immediate veterinary care is required as heatstroke is an extremely serious condition that can be fatal.

Why Do Dogs Get Heatstroke?

When humans get hot, we sweat, which cools our bodies down. Dogs can't sweat; instead, our canine companions cool their bodies by panting. If they can't sufficiently cool themselves by, their body temperature may continue to rise resulting in heatstroke.

Any breed or size of dog can suffer from heatstroke but dogs with thick fur, short noses or those suffering from underlying medical conditions tend to be more susceptible to this condition.

The most common causes of heatstroke in dogs include:

  • Leaving a dog in a car on a hot or sunny day
  • Forgetting to provide adequate water for your pet
  • Lack of sufficient shade in pet's outdoor play area

How Can I Tell If My Dog Has Heatstroke?

Excessive panting is one of the most obvious signs of heatstroke in dogs. That said, panting isn't the only symptom of heatstroke in dogs. Other symptoms of heatstroke that pet parents should be aware of include:

  • Drooling
  • Reddened gums
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mental dullness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Collapse

What Should I Do If I Think My Dog Has Heatstroke?

Heatstroke is a serious condition and symptoms should always be treated as an emergency! Heatstroke in dogs can lead to life-threatening issues such as abnormal blood clotting, swelling of the brain, kidney failure, and intestinal bleeding.

If your dog is displaying signs of heatstroke head to your primary care veterinarian, or the nearest animal emergency hospital right away. While traveling to the vet's office, keep the windows open or the air conditioner on full to help cool your pet.

If you can't get to a veterinary office or emergency animal hospital immediately, remove the dog from the hot environment straight away and allow your pup to drink as much cool water as they want without forcing them to drink. You can also help to bring your dog's body temperature down by placing a towel soaked in cool (not cold!) water over them.

How Is Heatstroke In Dogs Treated?

Safely reducing your dog's body temperature will be your vet's main focus. Cool water or cool, wet cloths may be used to cool your dog's head, body, and feet, or cool wet cloths may be applied to those areas. In some cases rubbing alcohol may be applied to your dog's footpads in order to help dilate pores and increase perspiration. Treatment for dogs with heatstroke may also include intravenous fluids, mild sedation and low-concentration oxygen therapy.

As well as treating the immediate symptoms of heatstroke, your vet will also monitor your dog will for secondary complications such as changes in blood pressure, electrolytes abnormalities, kidney failure, development of neurologic symptoms, and abnormal clotting.

How Can I Prevent Heatstroke In My Dog?

When it comes to the health and wellbeing of your pup, preventing heatstroke from ever happening is key. Prevent heatstroke in dogs by following the tips below:

  • Never leave a dog alone in a car. Even if you park in the shade and leave the windows cracked the temperature in your car could skyrocket! Studies have shown that even on cooler days, the temperature inside a car can rise by as much as 40° in as little as 1 hour.
  • Know your dog's level of heatstroke risk and take steps to be extra cautious with dogs that have an increased risk. Dog breeds with flat or 'squished' faces (aka brachycephalic) are more likely to suffer from heatstroke than dogs with longer noses. At-risk breeds include bulldogs, Boston terriers, Boxers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Shih Tzus and mastiffs.
  • Dogs that are obese or pets with an underlying heart condition may be particularly susceptible to heatstroke.
  • If you must leave your dog outside for long periods of time when it's hot out, ensure they have plenty of access to shade and water. A baby pool for a dog left outside may help, as they can cool themselves down by jumping in! Special cooling vests for dogs are also available for dogs that spend a lot of time in the heat.
  • Working dogs can become very focused on their job and forget to rest. Enforce rest breaks for your working dog to allow your pup's body to cool down (even if they don't want to).

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of heatstroke? Visit your Boulder vet team to receive urgent veterinary care for your pet.