Heat Stroke in Dogs:
How to Keep Your Dog Cool
When the Mercury Rises

Heat stroke in dogs (hyperthermia) is a serious emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention. Heat stroke occurs in hot conditions, when a dog becomes overheated and his body temperature rises to dangerous levels. If not treated promptly, the dog can die.

border collie walking in sun

Dogs are much better at keeping themselves warm in cold weather than they are at cooling themselves in hot weather. Dogs cannot cool themselves by sweating, like humans can. Panting is their primary method of dispelling heat. Panting enables evaporation of hot, humid air inside the body by exchanging it with cooler air outside. However, if the outside temperature is the same or higher than the dog’s normal body temperature (101.5°F to 102°F), panting is of little help in cooling him down.

The most common cause of heat stroke in dogs is due to the dog being left in a hot, parked car. You should never leave your pet in a parked car!

Even if you think the temperature is moderate and the windows are open, the temperature in a car can quickly rise to 120°F or higher. Within minutes your dog can suffer heat stroke and even die. Also, don’t be fooled because you park in the shade. What looks like a shady spot one minute can be in full sun the next. Your dog will be much happier – and safer – staying at home.

Other Causes of Heat Stroke in Dogs Include:

  • Too vigorous exercise in hot weather
  • Being left outside in the heat without shelter and plenty of cold, fresh water
  • Being confined to a poorly-ventilated crate or pet carrier

Signs of Heat Stroke Include:

  • Body temperature of 104° F or above
  • Skin that’s hot to the touch
  • Rapid panting or difficulty breathing
  • Bright red tongue and gums (less advanced stages)
  • Thick, sticky saliva
  • Too quick capillary refill time (see our article on dehydration in dogs
    for how to check capillary refill time)
  • Drooling/salivation
  • Pale gums (more advanced heat stroke)
  • Vomiting or diarrhea (may be bloody)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiratory (breathing) rate
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Depression
  • Disorientation, loss of coordination, acting drunk
  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma

  • Pets at Highest Risk of Heat Stroke in Dogs Include:

    • Dogs that have previously suffered from heat stroke
    • Older dogs
    • Overweight dogs
    • Sick dogs, such as those with heart or lung disease
    • Dogs with short snouts (such as bulldogs and pugs)
    • Dogs with thick coats

    What to do for Heat Stroke in Dogs

    Immediately get your dog to a cool place.
    The first step is to get your pet out of the hot situation and into a much cooler environment right away.

    Take the dog’s temperature with a rectal thermometer lubricated with petroleum jelly.
    If his temperature in not higher than 104°F, the heat stroke is not too advanced and you have your best chance of helping him recover.

    If his temperature is higher than 106°F and you can get to your vet or emergency veterinary center within five minutes, proceed immediately. Make your car as cold as possible and point the vents at your dog. Try to take someone else with you who can begin to cool your dog while on the way. Use ice or ice packs (or even bags of frozen peas) wrapped in towels to cool his head and body. Take special care to cool the dog’s head to prevent brain swelling. You can also use 70% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol on his armpits, groin and the pads of his feet to help cool him (do not use more than half a point/eight ounces, or it can be toxic).

    If you’re more than five minutes from a veterinary facility or if your dog is conscious, immediately begin to cool him yourself by beginning appropriate dog first aid.

    dog being sprayed with water hose

    If you have an outdoor hose, spray your dog with it (make sure the water is cool first). You can also put your dog in the shower and run cool water on him for several minutes. If this is not possible, soak towels in cold water and apply them to your dog’s head, neck, chest, stomach and feet. Once again, you can use 70% rubbing alcohol on his armpits, groin and pads of his feet, but not more than half a pint.

    Do not immerse your dog in cold water, as this can be very dangerous.

    Offer him a cold drink.
    Make sure that your dog drinks as much cold water as he wants to help cool him down and prevent dehydration.

    When his temperature falls below106°F, immediately take him to the vet.
    As you cool your dog, check his temperature every five minutes. Rush him to the vet once his temperature lowers below 106°F. Call when you are on your way to let them know that your pet is suffering from heat stroke in dogs and that you are bringing him in. Continue to cool him down while you are on your way.

    According to the American Red Cross’ , if your dog is suffering from heat stroke, your goal is to decrease his body temperature to about 103°F within the first 10 – 15 minutes.

    Once his temperature falls to 103°F, stop the cooling process, as if you continue his body temperature could plummet dangerously low.

    Check for shock.
    If your dog is in shock, rush him to the nearest veterinary hospital, as this can lead to cardiac arrest and death. Do not wrap him in a blanket if his temperature is above 103°F.

    Be prepared to perform CPR.
    Check to make sure your dog is breathing. If not, begin CPR (see our article on dog CPR ).

    Even if you successfully manage to bring your dog’s temperature down to 103°F, you must still take him to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will need to examine him for side-effects, some of which might not become evident for hours of even days, and can be fatal if left untreated.

    Preventing Heat Stroke in Dogs

    Common sense prevention is the best way to keep your pet from suffering a heat stroke tragedy.

    • As mentioned previously, never leave your pet unattended in a vehicle, even if the windows are left open.
    • Restrict exercise to the coolest hours of the day, either in the early morning or after sundown. Take extra special care with short-nosed breeds and sick or older dogs.
    • Never leave your pet outside without appropriate shelter and plenty of cold, fresh water. Even better, keep him inside during hot weather.
    • Never confine your pet in a poorly ventilated area, such as a garage.

    Heat stroke in dogs is a serious emergency that, if not treated immediately, can be fatal. Thankfully, proper prevention can keep your precious canine safe and healthy – in all types of weather.

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    Legal Disclaimer
    If your pet is showing any signs of distress or you suspect your pet is seriously ill, contact your veterinarian immediately. This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care.

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