Heatstroke in Dogs

Whether you enjoy hot temperatures year-round where you live or just in a few brief summer months, heatstroke in dogs is something every pet owner needs to know about. Here, our Seattle vets share the symptoms of this potentially deadly condition, and what to do if you think your dog has heatstroke. 

What is heatstroke in dogs?

Heatstroke - also called prostration or hyperthermia - is defined as an increase in core body temperature caused by environmental conditions. Your pooch has a normal body temperature between 99-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If your dog's body temperature rises above 105, immediate veterinary care is required. Heatstroke is an extremely serious condition that can be fatal if left untreated.

Why do dogs get heatstroke?

When humans get hot we begin to sweat which works to cool our bodies down. Dogs, on the other hand, are unable to sweat, instead, our canine companions cool their bodies by panting. If panting isn't sufficient to cool themselves down, 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

What are heatstroke symptoms in dogs?

The most obvious sign of heatstroke in dogs is excessive panting. That said, panting isn't the only symptom of heatstroke in dogs. Other symptoms of heatstroke that dog owners need to 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!

This condition can lead to life-threatening issues such as abnormal blood clotting, swelling of the brain, kidney failure, and intestinal bleeding in dogs. 

If your pooch 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 are unable to get to a vet's office 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.

What is the treatment for heatstroke in dogs?

Safely reducing your dog's body temperature will be your vet's immediate focus. Cool water may be poured over 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 for secondary complications such as changes in blood pressure, electrolytes abnormalities, kidney failure, development of neurologic symptoms, and abnormal clotting. 

How do I prevent my dog from getting heatstroke?

When it comes to the health and wellbeing of your canine companion, 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 degrees in as little as one 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 those that have 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, be sure to provide plenty of water and shade. 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.

If your dog is showing signs of heatstroke contact our Seattle vets right away, or reach out to the after-hours emergency vet detailed on our contact page. 

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