Dog Science Series: How to Treat (and Prevent) Heatstrokes in Dogs

They may be called "the dog days of summer," but hot weather is no friend to your pup. If their temperature gets too high, even a healthy dog can suffer from heatstroke or hyperthermia. The condition can be life-threatening, and in the worst cases, it can lead to organ failure. To keep your beloved companion safe, it's important to know the facts about heatstroke and what to do if it happens.

The dangers of heatstroke

According to a 2020 study, rising global temperatures are causing more and more problems for vulnerable dogs, putting them at risk for dangerous overheating. The concern is so high that the study's authors suggested that vets may want to take into account how well different breeds tolerate the heat when they recommend what type of dogs people may consider getting.

The AAHA reports that heatstroke or heat exhaustion is a dangerous condition that occurs when your dog's core temperature increases above normal levels. For dogs, that range is between 100 and 102.2 degrees. Dogs have very few sweat glands, so their body temperature can rise very quickly. Panting is the main way that they cool off, and it isn't always enough to do the trick.

Heatstroke happens most often when dogs spend too much time outside on hot days, or even worse, are left in a hot car. But even a dog that is simply too interested in playing to rest and cool off can be at risk of heat stroke too. This is especially true during the summer months or if the humidity is high.

All animals are susceptible to overheating, but some dog breeds are more prone to it. Brachycephalic breeds that have a broad, short skull, such as bulldogs and pugs, are at a higher risk. Their head shape makes it harder for them to cool down by panting. Dogs who are older, overweight, have lung problems, or have heart disease are also more likely to experience heatstroke. For these dogs, conditions that are only moderately dangerous for most animals can be very unsafe.

Many people's dogs fall into the high-risk category for heatstroke, and any dog can get sick if the temperature is high enough.

Warning signs of heatstroke in dogs

Heatstroke can happen fast, so even an attentive dog owner could run into trouble with their pup on a hot day. Getting a dog that is too hot the care they need is vital, so be sure to watch for signs of heatstroke. They include:

  • excessive panting that continues to get worse
  • excessive drooling
  • trouble breathing
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • an increased heart rate
  • bright red gums
  • listlessness or agitation
  • loss of consciousness
  • seizures

If you see any of these symptoms, you must respond right away. Heatstroke is a medical emergency, and it can get worse very quickly.

What to do if your dog has heatstroke

If you see early signs of heatstroke, such as heavy panting, take your dog to a cooler place immediately, preferably with air conditioning. Offer them some cool water to drink, but not cold water. You can also pour cool water over them. Be sure to avoid their head, in case they lose consciousness and inhale the water.

Some people recommend draping the dog in wet towels that have been drenched in lukewarm water, but you have to be careful with this. The towels can start to trap heat instead of cooling the dog. If you use towels, change them frequently and keep a fan directed at the dog.

Be sure not to pour cold water over your dog or give them icy water to drink. Although it's important to bring their temperature down, if it drops too quickly, it can cause dangerous blood pressure fluctuations.

While you're doing this, check your dog's body temperature with a rectal thermometer. Stop working to reduce their temperature when it gets to 103.5 degrees because you run the risk of making them too cold. They'll continue to cool off for a little while after you stop.

Even if your dog seems to recover quickly, they should still be seen by a vet. They may need intravenous fluids, blood pressure support, anti-seizure medications, or other treatment. Do your best to keep track of when your dog started showing symptoms and how long you've been trying to cool them off. The vet may want that information.

Frequently asked questions

Can you treat heatstroke in a dog at home?

You should take quick measures to treat heatstroke as soon as you see them, and if your dog responds quickly it may be safe to keep an eye on them at home. However, if their symptoms are serious, or they continue after 10 minutes of treatment, take them to the vet. To be on the safe side, it's a good idea to get any heatstroke symptoms checked out.

What are the symptoms of heat stroke in a dog?

Watch for the following symptoms:

  • heavy panting
  • trouble breathing
  • excessive drooling
  • red gums
  • an increased heart rate
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • listlessness or agitation
  • loss of consciousness
  • seizures

How do I stop my dog from having a heat stroke?

If your dog is in an environment with excessive heat, provide somewhere they can go to cool off. Be sure to have plenty of fresh water available, and watch for signs of distress. If your dog is at higher risk for heatstroke, pay close attention to how hot they're getting, and take them inside if needed.

At Animals Matter, we understand how important it is to keep your dog safe and comfortable. We have a wealth of information about how to help dogs live their best life on our blog. For more information or to check out our carefully selected products, feel free to contact us.

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