How to Recognize and Treat Heatstroke in Dogs

Panting-PugTweets, status updates, and blog posts of every kind abound this time of year about the dangers of leaving your dog in the car. Many rightly point out that even on what we would consider a cool day for summertime, the temperature inside the car can quickly rise to deadly levels; what many don’t mention is that this can happen outside the car as well.

Heatstroke is a concern in dogs because they are not able to cool themselves as efficiently as we. Additional factors that contribute to heatstroke in dogs are:

  • difficulty distinguishing a dog that is in the beginning stages of heatstroke from a dog that is simply hot
  • brachycephalic (flat faced or short muzzled) dogs like Pugs, French Bulldogs, et al., are even more susceptible because of their reduced capacity to pant efficiently
  • High drive dogs will often work to the point of exhaustion if allowed.
  • Temperatures we find agreeable or pleasant can still lead to heat stroke in dogs.

Recognizing the Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs

Beginning signs of heatstroke in dogs include:

  • heavy panting
  • difficult or labored breathing
  • tongue and mucus membranes a bright red
  • disorientation and unsteadiness
  • thick saliva that is very tacky
  • rectal temperature above 104°F

Advanced signs of heatstroke include:

  • progressive unsteadiness or prostration
  • vomiting
  • bloody diarrhea
  • seizures
  • lips and mucus membranes turning gray

What to do if you Suspect your Dog is suffering from Heatstroke

Steps to take include:

  • Immediately move the dog to a shaded area, preferably indoors with air conditioning or fans to help conduct cooler air flow over them.
  • Take the dog’s rectal temperature immediately and then every ten minutes thereafter.
  • If the dog’s temperature is below 104°F, allowing the dog to rest in the cooler environment should be enough to bring dogs temperature back into the normal range of 101°F – 102.5°F.
  • If the dog’s temperature is above 104°F, rapid cooling should be undertaken.
  • Spraying the dog with a garden hose or immersing him in a tub of cool water (NOT ICE WATER) for up to two minutes. Afterwards, place the dog in front of an electric fan to help speed the evaporation/cooling process, repeating this process as much as needed.
  • Cool packs applied to the groin area and armpits may be helpful, as well as wiping their paws off with cool water.
  • Remember to monitor the dog’s rectal temperature every ten minutes. Once their temperature falls below 103°F you can begin to dry the dog off.
  • Make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure that your dog has no medical problems that contributed to or arose from the episode of heatstroke.

Steps to avoid include:

  • Immersing your dog in an ice bath or excessively cold water can actually hinder the cooling processing by constricting blood vessels and slowing blood flow.
  • Using rubbing alcohol to cool a dog suffering from heatstroke can cause toxicity problems due to the amount needed to actually work as a rapid cooling solution.

Heatstroke prevention is accomplished by:

  • Knowing the signs of heatstroke.
  • Being aware of the environment we are placing our dogs into.
  • Knowing our dog’s limitations and tendencies.
  • Paying attention to both our dog’s body language and changes in the environment.

Notes and Disclaimer

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to supplant the advice of a veterinarian. It is derived using the best information publicly available at the time of publication.