Heatstroke In Dogs – Symptoms And Prevention

Written by: Kristina Lalovic
Don't you just love being outside on a hot summer day, together with your dog? But, are you sure that your canine share your enthusiasm? Hot summer day sometimes means heatstroke to your dog. Heatstroke in dogs is often a condition that can lead to life-threatening consequences. Read on and discover why heatstroke is dangerous to your dog, and what you can do to prevent it and save your dog's life.

Overheating in dogs is a condition that shouldn’t be taken easily. Dog’s don’t sweat like humans. Unlike people, they don’t sweat out excess body heat.

Their sweat glands are located in their paws, and they are not known as great support when it comes to regulating their body temperature. Instead, they sweat through rapid, open-mouthed breathing, that’s known and called as panting.

However, sometimes panting isn’t enough to keep your furry buddy from getting overheated. Therefore, overheating can be a serious condition that can lead to a number of serious conditions. But, this condition can be prevented by recognizing early warning signs.

Overheating is more common in field dogs as they are especially vulnerable, but is a condition that can impact all dogs, regardless of breed, sex, and age.

Your dog is in great danger if it’s left on a temperature that goes to a minimum of 106 or higher. With this temperature your dog is in the danger zone for heat stroke, that might lead to complete organ shut-down and heart stop.

In short, our canine buddies have a much higher temperature than we do and far fewer ways to lower it and cool down.

Dehydration In Dogs

Dehydration involves the loss of water and depletion of electrolytes, which leads to an excess loss of body fluids. Depletion of electrolytes is important because it includes essential minerals of sodium, chloride, and potassium.

Dehydration is a condition common for the summer period or any other days that are marked with high temperature.

The dehydrated dog is easy to spot, as common signs are sunken eyes, dry mouth, nose, and gums. If you are not sure that your dog is hydrated, you can test it by gently pulling up on the skin at the back of your dog’s neck. If the skin doesn’t spring back at the same second to its normal position, it means that your dog is dehydrated.

Also, this short test can show how severe dehydration is. The more time it takes for the skin to return to its normal position, the severe dehydration.

Dehydration can lead to a series of more difficult outcomes. If left untreated, dehydration can lead to organ failure and even death. If you suspect of dehydration make sure that you look for immediate medical attention.

Furthermore, depending on the severity of dehydration, your vet might suggest water with electrolyte products. In more severe cases, intravenous fluids will be conducted to refill your dog’s fluids. Also, dehydration is one of the potential signs of possible overheating.

What Is Heatstroke In Dogs?

Heatstroke, also known as overheating, is a type of hyperthermia, a condition in which body temperature is elevated beyond normal (beyond 104°F) because the body fails to cool itself. Overheating occurs when body produces more heat than it is able to dissipate.

Unlike people, dogs don’t regulate their body temperature through skin. When it’s very hot outside, people eliminate heat from their bodies through sweating. Dogs, on the other hand, do the same by panting. Dogs only have sweat glands in their paws, but the body temperature regulation is only minimally aided by these. When temperature’s rise, panting and external cooling are the only ways dogs can lose heat from their bodies.

But sometimes, panting can’t cool a dog’s body enough which rises its body temperature. When the heat is trapped in the body for too long, overheating or heat stroke can occur and, if not treated correctly, can have fatal consequences.

The reason why overheating can lead to death is because most body functions fail to operate on a very high temperature. Circulatory, blood clotting, urinary and neurologic systems all stop operating and damage to internal organs starts as the heatstroke progresses. When this occurs, it might be too late to reverse the damage and the chances to recover from heatstroke become only minimal.

The problem with heatstroke is that owners sometimes do not recognize the signs of overheating which puts their pet in an immediate danger. This is why each dog owner should learn about early signs of mild heat stress and heat exhaustion in order to avoid heatstroke complications and unfortunate fatal outcomes. Also, what makes overheating additionally dangerous is that it can occur much faster than one would suppose.

Knowing the signs of early overheating will definitely set you on the right track to always know how to recognize this dangerous condition on time and save a dog’s life. However, let’s first explain which factors make heatstroke more probable.

What Causes Heatstroke In Dogs?

Needless to say, it’s the heat that causes heatstrokes in dogs. The risk of heatstroke is definitely the highest during hot, summer days, but, overheating can also occur when the temperatures are only mild. Therefore, overly hot days aren’t the only ones that put your dog at risk from overheating.

In fact, heatstroke can also occur due to:

  • Warm/hot environment
  • Warm and humid environment with inadequate ventilation
  • Animals being left in an unventilated room
  • Animals being left in a car
  • Inadequate shade
  • Inadequate drinking water
  • Excessive exercise

However, one of the most common causes of heatstroke in canines is when they are left in cars. You should never leave your dog in a car, because they can die within hours and suffer a lot. Cars heat up easily even when the weather is only warm.

Leaving your dog in a car is definitely not a good idea, especially not during summer. A hot, humid environment can also lead to overheating.

Dogs are known for being intolerant for too much heat. As we said before, dogs don’t do well high temperatures in the same manner that humans do. Therefore, it’s possible for them to suffer severely during hot days. Because they can’t regulate their body temperature by sweating all over their bodies like we humans, heatstroke can easily happen.

Heatstroke can take place if a pooch’s respiratory tract fails to clear heat quickly enough.

Basically, heat in dogs happens when the body temperature goes above the normal temperature. The concept of normal temperature varies, but the general opinion is that temperatures of 103 degrees Fahrenheit and higher are above normal. However, if the temperature continues rising and eventually reaches 106 or higher, your furry friend is in the danger zone for heat stroke.

Luckily, it’s not too difficult to spot signs of overheating in dogs. Therefore, you can react fast as soon as you spot them and help your dog.

REMEMBER: Always provide your dog with cool shade and fresh drinking water in hot and humid places.

What Are The Signs Of Overheating In A Dog?

The signs of overheating depend on its severity and stage. The early signs aren’t so dramatic as the severe/fatal ones, but that’s exactly what makes heatstroke so dangerous. You may not be aware of the fact that it is slowly, but surely progressing.

However, if you notice these signs, you’re still on time to protect your dog from serious damages and potential death that heatstroke can lead to.

Early Overheating Signs:

  • Excessive Panting
  • Excessive Drooling
  • Rapid Heart Rate
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of Coordination
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of Responsiveness

Pay attention if your dog suddenly has glazed eyes and acts strangely after he spent some time under the sun (or in an unventilated room).

GOOD TO KNOW: Recognizing early signs of overheating is crucial in order to successfully stop heatstroke from occurring.

Warning Heatstroke Signs

If you notice anything from these signs in a dog, take your first aid kit and go immediately to the vet’s.

  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle Tremors
  • Diarrhea (Possibly With Blood)
  • Blue or Bright red Gums or Tongue
  • Coma
  • Little to No Urine Production

WATCH OUT: These are red signs that you’re dog’s bodily systems are failing to operate.

Watch this video and make sure you recognize warning signs your dog is suffering from a heatstroke.

Risks of Heatstroke In Dogs

Although all dogs can suffer from overheating, some of them might be more prone to it than others. For instance, long, thick hair, breed type, as well as too young or too old age can all put a dog at a higher risk from getting heatstroke.

Interestingly, there are some breeds that are might be more likely to get a heatstroke rather than others, because of their short noses, and flat faces.

Breeds that are at a higher risk of overheating are:

  • Shih Tzus
  • Pugs
  • Boxers
  • English Bulldogs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Pekingese
  • Boston Terrier
  • Lhasa Apso
  • Japanese Chin

Apart from these flat-faced, bracyphaelic breeds that are more likely to suffer from overheating, there are other traits too that might indicate a higher risk from experiencing heatstroke. These are:

  • Obesity
  • Long, thick coat
  • Too Young
  • Too Old
  • Breathing Difficulties
  • Medical Conditions
  • Active dogs/ Herding dogs
  • Heart problems
  • Excessive Exercise
  • Dehydration

All dogs that suffer from conditions affecting dog’s respiratory or cardiovascular systems make them more susceptible to overheating. During warm months it is important to always provide your dog with a shade and a fresh source of clean water.

Dog Heatstroke Complications

In order to explain how important it is to react immediately when you notice first signs of overheating, we will briefly tell you more on what happens if a heatstroke is correctly treated.

As mentioned above, when body fails to cool itself, the heat spreads through the body and slowly damages essential bodily functions by stopping internal organs from working. The excessive heat, when not controlled externally, may lead to rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which muscle fibers die and release their contents into the bloodstream, neurological damage or dysfunction, acute kidney injury, acute respiratory distress syndrome, acute pancreatitis, or sepsis.

What To Do If Your Dog Is Showing Signs Of Heatstroke?

Since overheating can be really dangerous and may lead to serious damages to your dog’s internal organs and even end in death, reacting as soon as first signs show is crucial. So what should you do if your dog is showing first signs of overheating?

Make sure to follow these steps in order to cool down your dog:

  1. Move your dog to a cooler area (in an air conditioned room, in a cool shade, under a fan)
  2. Call your vet to set an appointment as soon as possible
  3. Check your dog’s temperature by using a rectal thermometer. If your dog’s body temperature is beyond 104 degrees, he’s at risk from having a heatstroke.
  4. Cool your dog down by using wet towels to cool him down. Use lukewarm water rather than cold or ice-cold, because it is contraindicated. Wet his neck, armpits, in between your dog’s hind legs, as well as ears and paw pads. If you’re in a cool shade of your backyard, you can also cool your dog with tap water from the hose. (make sure the water is not hot or too cold first)
  5. If your dog is not too weak, let him take a dip in a lake or pool.
  6. Hydrate your dog by giving him cool, fresh water. Depending on the severity of heat exhaustion, your dog might or might not want to drink water. If he seems unconscious and dizzy and is rejecting to drink water, wet his tongue with water.
  7. Go to the vet. Even if it looks to you that your dog is doing better, heat exhaustion and overheating are really dangerous and professional help is needed in order to completely and correctly recover your dog from it. Always bring your dog to the vet when you notice signs of overheating.

When wetting your dog, there’s no need to use ice-cold water to cool him down. A study found that a regular tap water of around 60 degrees Fahrenheit lowers an overheated dog’s temperature at the same rate as the ice-cold water. Not only, but using ice cold water instead of the moderately cold, tepid water is contraindicated because it may lead to shivering and even shock.

REMEMBER: Never give your dog ice cubes when too hot. The ice or ice-cold water might drop his body temperature too quickly and lead to shivering and shock.

Heatstroke Treatment

Heatstroke in dogs is an emergency, which is why all dogs showing even the early signs of overheating should immediately be brought to their vets.

As soon as you bring your dog in, the vet will first analyze the severity of the heatstroke and then proceed with the needed medical treatment.

The treatment consists of different measures that work to restore your dog’s normal body temperature. It has to be administered as soon as possible in order to prevent organ failure. Once the cooling treatment starts, your dog will be observed by the vet professionals and his body temperature will be monitored every 5 minutes in order to confirm the success of cooling.

Fluid therapy is also required in case of overheating, because this condition is usually accompanied with dehydration and hypovolemic shock.

These are the things your vet should do:

  1. Check your dog’s body temperature
  2. Check your dog’s vital signs – if the stage of overheating is proven as severe, your vet will likely proceed with several more steps
  3. Put your dog on a drip
  4. Administer several cooling treatments (cooling enemas are commonly used for overheating)
  5. Put your dog on supplemental oxygen
  6. Give your dog necessary medication
  7. Conduct analysis of a blood sample in order to check organ function

Heatstroke Recovery

Unfortunately, complete recovery from heatstroke is not guaranteed. In fact, despite the appropriate treatment, heatstroke has very high mortality in dogs (death occurs in more than 50% of dogs going through heatstroke).

But, if a dog is immediately brought to the vet after showing first signs of heatstroke, intensive vet care might make dog’s chances of complete recovery much higher. If overheating and heatstroke have already gone to a more severe stage and your dog reacts well to the cooling therapy, treatment of heatstroke usually requires hospitalization for the next 24-48 hours.

After receiving the appropriate therapy and treatment, the veterinarian will likely have follow-up calls and check-ups during the following days. All signs of suspected organ damage have to be noticed in order to make sure your dog is completely recovered.

During the first days, you should avoid tiring your dog in any way. Make sure he’s at a safe, cool place, and do not exercise him until your vet tells you he’s ready to go back to his everyday routines.

How Long Does The Heatstroke Recovery Last?

Even though your dog might look normal after several cooling treatments, the effects of heatstroke will be gone only after 48-72 hours.

However, the complete recovery from a heatstroke takes more time. First two days are the most crucial ones and are usually the ones that are reserved for hospitalization. Depending on the severity of the heatstroke, full recovery might last from months to even a full year.

All signs of any potential organ damage have to be noticed in order to determine which therapies and treatments should be implemented. Additional follow-up appointments and blood test will be required in the next months. This way, your veterinarian will be able to tell you more precisely if the heatstroke left serious consequences on your dog or not.

In any case, after the episode of a heatstroke you will have to:

  • refrain from exercising your dog (strenuous exercises is absolutely forbidden)
  • provide a cool environment
  • make sure your dog always has access to fresh water

Watch out for hot days and make sure you never leave your dog in rooms of excessive heat or poor ventilation. If your dog stays indoors alone for some hours on hot days, leave the air conditioner on in order to make sure humidity and heat are kept completely under control. Remember that warm, humid days might be equally dangerous as really hot days for your dog. If your dog is rather in the backyard, you will have to provide a cool shade out of the sun where your dog will be able to relax.

Since dogs that have suffered heatstroke are at a higher risk of experiencing it again, you should avoid over-exercising your dog in general, and refrain from exercising him when the weather is too hot. Instead, wait that the temperature decreases and take him for a walk in the evening.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Prevent Heatstroke?

Heatstroke can be easily prevented by providing your dog with: enough fresh water(especially during hot weather), a cool shade in the yard or a well-ventilated, air-conditioned space indoors. Avoiding excessive exercise during hot days is also a good way to make sure your dog doesn’t overheat.

Can Dogs Die From Heatstroke?

Unfortunately, yes. The mortality rate from heatstroke is very high (above 50% of affected dogs). But, recognizing the earliest symptoms of overheating along with bringing your dog to the vet might save your dog from heatstroke damage and potential fatality.