Heat Stroke in Dogs: How to Recognize, Prevent & Treat It
Summer heat doesn’t just affect us humans but our pooches as well. Heat stroke in dogs is one of the most dangerous consequences of extreme heat. Here’s how to tell if your dog is having one, how to treat it, and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
A ‘hot dog’ can be a traditional part of summertime cookouts, but it can also be a nightmare! The four-legged kind ‘cooks’ more quickly and cannot cool off like humans do since they don’t sweat.
Dogs release some heat through their nose and paw pads, but mostly, they pant to bring cooler outside air over their tongue and into their lungs. However, it’s not very effective when environmental temperatures rise.
Panting doesn’t always do the trick, and that’s when the dog’s body temperature will rise.
If you don’t intervene quickly, this can be fatal, so it’s important to know how to keep your dog cool in the summer. Equally important is knowing how to recognize, prevent, and treat a heat stroke, should the worst happen to your best friend.
Fever Hyperthermia vs. Non-Fever Hyperthermia
Hyperthermia is defined as an elevation in your dog’s body temperature. Generally, anything above 103°F (39°C) is considered abnormal since the normal temperature range for dogs is between 100.4 and 102.5°F (38 – 39.16 °C).
Hyperthermia is divided into two types: fever and non-fever.
Fever hyperthermia is caused by inflammation in the body (i.e., viral or bacterial infections), while non-fever hyperthermia, also referred to as heat stroke, occurs when the heat-dissipating mechanisms in a pet’s body cannot compensate for external high temperatures.
Without immediate attention, a heat stroke can result in multiple organ failure, including brain damage, kidney failure, cardiac arrest, and death. A dog dealing with moderate heat stroke (body temperature ranging from 104º to 106ºF) can overcome it within an hour if he is given immediate first aid and veterinary care. In contrast, severe heat stroke in dogs (body temperature over 106ºF) can be deadly and immediate!
Heat Distress vs. Heat Exhaustion
Heat Distress and Heat Exhaustion are terms that are often used interchangeably to denote heat stroke. More accurately, heat distress means a low degree of increased body temperature, while heat exhaustion in dogs is used to explain a warmer but not moderate case of non-fever induced hyperthermia.
Heat Stroke Causes in Dogs
Heat stroke does not discriminate, and it can affect any breed. However, it occurs more frequently in long-haired dogs and short-nosed, flat-faced breeds. Dogs with narrow airways, such as Bulldogs and Pugs, are less efficient at cooling themselves off and are at particular risk.
Heat stroke can affect dogs of any age, but young pups, senior dogs, and overweight pets are most prone.
The most common cause of heatstroke, however, is being left in a parked car! On a comfortable 75°F day, the internal temperature of your vehicle can be 120°F or higher. At 85°F, it can be 140°F or hotter inside a car!
When parked on hot concrete or asphalt, the heat radiates up through the car while more heat beats down from the sun, trapping it in a greenhouse effect. Add to that your pooch panting 101, 102, 103 degrees as his temperature continues to rise.
Being left in a backyard without proper shade or cool water can also result in heat stroke. Take into account the movement of the sun when setting up your dog’s outdoor play area. Also, make sure water bowls are refilled throughout the day and that they stay in the shade. Compensating by leaving out very large water vessels that can become birdbaths does not provide potable water for your dog. Every system of the body requires water to function, so keep your dog well-hydrated year ‘round.
- Dehydration in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment - Summer heat can be a real danger for your dog. We teach you how to recognize dehydration in dogs, as well as how to prevent and treat it.
History of previous heat-related disease, poor conditioning, illness, and increased thyroid levels can all contribute to your dog experiencing heat stroke. Julie Buzby, DVM, CVA, CAVCA, and Founder of Dr. Buzby’s Innovations offers a unique perspective as to another cause of heat stroke in dogs:
As the days become sweltering and humid, some call this time of year ‘the dog days of summer,’ but as a veterinarian, I call it ‘Lar-Par Season.’ As the temperature increases, so do cases of laryngeal paralysis. Dogs pant to cool off and those with lar-par are much more prone to heat stroke because of their inability to dissipate heat.
As lar-par dogs begin to overheat, they breathe harder but can’t move air efficiently. This creates a vicious circle where neither the exchange of air nor the dog’s attempt to cool the body works properly, leading to heat stroke!
Julie Buzby, DVM, CVA, CAVCA
Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Dogs
Here are some of the most common warning signs of heat stroke in dogs. Begin treatment as indicated below and transport to veterinary care if you notice any of these heat stroke symptoms in dogs:
- Rectal temperature 104° or higher
- Excessive panting with bright red tongue & gums
- Dry or sticky gums
- Thick or foamy saliva
- Weakness, disorientation
- Vomiting or diarrhea (sometimes containing blood)
- Collapse, unwillingness or inability to get up
How to Treat Heat Stroke in Dogs
If you suspect your dog overheating, here’s how to cool off a dog.
1. Move Him to a Cooler Environment
Taking him indoors would be best, positioning a cooling fan to blow on your overheated best pal, but even a shady sidewalk or grassy area can help.
2. Use Lukewarm or Room Temperature Water
This is how to cool down a dog. Get him wet from the paws up, dousing the paws, pits, groin, and belly skin to cool most effectively. If you place your dog in a sink, tub, or pool, only let the water rise to his belly and armpits. Immersing your dog up to his neck will cause his temperature to drop much too fast, resulting in hypothermia (low body temperature).
Avoid using ice or freezing water, both of which may cause blood vessels to constrict and prevent heat from leaving the body. Once body temperature reaches 103.9°F, you can stop the cooling process. Your dog’s body will take it from there, but his veterinarian should see him.
NOTE: Wiping the inner flaps of your dog’s ears, his belly skin, and paw pads with rubbing alcohol or witch hazel can also have a cooling effect. Just be sure not to so so if he has any cuts or scrapes as the alcohol, in particular, will sting!
3. Do not Force Your Dog to Drink
Allow him to drink small amounts. Tanking up may cause him to throw-up, aspirating vomit into the lungs. The water mustn’t be too cold, as it will have the opposite effect and cause the temperature to rise further. You can spray water, or dribble from a syringe if he doesn’t drink on his own.
4. Check Your Dog’s Temperature
If it is 104°F or higher, get to the veterinarian immediately! Drape the dog with a wet sheet and turn on car air conditioning as you transport him. Never wrap your buddy in a wet towel as his body heat will create a sauna effect.
If your dog goes unconscious, rubbing some honey or Karo Syrup on his gums will increase his blood sugar level. Be prepared also to administer Cardio Pulmonary Cerebral Resuscitation as you transport him to veterinary care.
A homeopathic tip is to administer Belladonna, a fever reducer, also known as Night Shade, which can prove useful in bringing the temperature down, but not as quickly as water and a cold environment.
How to Prevent Heat Stroke in Dogs
Keep in mind that if it’s too hot for you, then it’s definitely too hot for your dog as well! Follow these summer dog safety tips to prevent heat stroke in dogs:
- Hot concrete can burn your dog’s paws. Place the top of your hand, where the skin is not toughened, on the asphalt, and hold it for 5 seconds. If that is something you can do comfortably, your dog should be able to walk on it. If the opposite is true, don’t take him outside. If you want to take your dog for a walk on hot days, make sure always to use dog boots.
- 10 Best Dog Boots to Protect Your Best Friend’s Paws - A review of 10 of the best dog boots on the market that can keep your dog safe and sound during his summer walks.
- Never leave your dog in a parked car
- If you have a fenced yard, make sure the shade stays on the inside of the fence instead of on your neighbor’s lawn.
- Keep your dog well-hydrated and permanently fill their water bowl. Keep the bowl in a cool location and if you can hook it to a spigot to keep the water fresh.
- Use 4 cups of water, one tablespoon of sugar, and 1 teaspoon of salt to create electrolyte water than you then freeze in ice cubes and add to your dog’s water bowl.
- Feed your dog frozen treats. You can find some at the store or make your own:
-> Ice chips
-> Frozen cooked beef or chicken bits mixed with non-fat yogurt
-> Frozen ½ peanut butter (no xylitol) mixed with ½ non-fat plain yogurt
-> Frozen coconut oil, blueberries, and banana slices
- Shaving your dog’s fur is a mistake! You can do a short summer cut, but leave at least 1 – 1 ½ inches of fur on his body. This will insulate his skin from sunburn.
- When it’s scorching outside, don’t make your dog exercise or take him with you when you go for a run.
- 10 Best Wet Dog Food Brands to Keep Your Pup Hydrated - This review of 10 of the best wet dog food brands to buy for your pooch features information on the food's ingredients, price range, pros, cons, and more.
Dog heat stroke recovery for those who suffer from a moderate bout of heat stroke can occur without long-term health problems if treated early. Hyperthermia can cause organ damage that might need ongoing care, including medication and a special diet.
Dogs who have suffered from heat stroke increase their risk of succumbing to it again, so it is imperative for you to step up to keep your dog cool, particularly on hot, humid days.
If treatment occurs quickly, many dogs recover fully from heat stroke while others suffer permanent organ damage. Sadly, some dogs do not survive. Dr. Buzby summarizes it best:
I can’t stress enough that heat stroke is a life-threatening veterinary emergency for your dog that is complex and complicated. IV fluids will, no doubt, be a part of the treatment due to dehydration, but your dog overheating can have a serious impact on multiple organ systems.
Some complications will not manifest until after the initial episode, so the dog must be closely monitored. Heat stroke is clearly a condition that responsible pet parents want to prevent rather than to treat in their dogs.
Have you ever noticed heat stroke symptoms in your dog? What was the cause, and what did you do to cool off your dog? Any special tips as to how to keep dogs cool in summer? We’re all ears to hear your thoughts.
DENISE FLECK is an award-winning author, animal care instructor and radio show host. She was named one of Pet Age Magazine’s “Women of Influence” for 2018, a “Most Inspiring Story” in 2017 by Voyage Atlanta Magazine and has been nominated for 6 Dog Writers Awards to be announced in early 2019.Read more »