Heat Stroke in Dogs and How to Prevent Them

Heat Stroke

Dogs do not sweat in the same way humans do. Instead of sweating, dogs eliminate heat by panting. They do have some sweat glands in the footpads, which help with heat dissipation but only minimally. When panting isn’t enough, a dog’s body temperature rises. This can be fatal if not treated immediately and can can lead to serious and potentially fatal conditions such as heat stroke and cardiac arrest.

Thus, overheating in dogs is not something to take lightly. As the weather heats up, it’s important to remain aware of how intense heat affects your pup. To help keep your dog safe and cool during the summer, here are signs that they’re overheating and ways to prevent it.

Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs

Any hot environment can cause heat stroke in dogs, but the most common cause is a careless action by a pet owner, such as leaving a dog in a car or forgetting to provide water and shade to pets that are outdoors.

Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs

Wag Walking

Some dogs are more prone to developing heat exhaustion, especially dogs who are older, overweight, or brachycephalic (breeds with a wide head and are short in stature). Dogs with thick fur, short noses, or those suffering from medical conditions such as laryngeal paralysis and obesity are also susceptible to heat stroke. Even dogs who enjoy constant exercise and playtime should be closely monitored for symptoms, especially on hot days.

It’s generally agreed that temperatures of 103 degrees Fahrenheit and higher are already considered above normal. If their temperature continues to rise and reaches 106 or higher, your best friend is in the danger zone for heat stroke, during which the organs begin to shut down and their heart could stop altogether.

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to spot signs of overheating in dogs. Here are warning signs.

Heavy panting

Did you know there are different degrees of how strenuously a dog pants? When exposed to warmer temperatures, dogs usually start with a slightly opened-mouth light panting. As the temperature gets warmer, it will progress to fully open-mouthed panting accompanied with a swollen tongue that hangs out to the side.

If you notice your dog is panting heavily, get them to a cool and shady spot immediately, preferably somewhere with a fan or air conditioning. Also, offer them fresh water.

Panting Dog

Reddogs / Shutterstock

Excessive drooling

If your dog is drooling excessively while in hot temperatures, it can be a sign that they are having a hard time cooling off. Creating excess saliva helps your dog dissipate heat better than just panting alone. It’s best to not wait until your dog is drooling like a faucet. Once you suspect they’re drooling too much, get inside and cooled off immediately.

Frequently lying down

While on a summer stroll, you may have noticed your dog trying to lie down and take a break. This is a clear sign that they are feeling the effects of the heat and will probably need to go inside to cool down immediately. Overheating can cause dogs to nap more than normal or having trouble standing up or walking. Allow your furry best friend some time to recover and offer them a drink of water before going indoors. If, however, your dog collapses from the heat, wet their coat with water and rush them to a veterinarian or animal hospital.

Rapid heartbeat

A racing or irregular heartbeat is another sign your dog could be overheating. The easiest way to take your dog’s pulse is to place your hand on their chest near their front elbow joint. An increased heart rate is the body’s attempt to pump as much overheated blood as possible to the extremities and away from vital organs, where it can cause damage. If this happens to your dog, immediately rush them to a veterinarian or animal hospital.

Dehydration

Signs of dehydration include a dry nose, visible tiredness, sunken eyes, lack of urine, fever, oddly colored gums (bright red, gray, purple, or bluish), and dizziness.

These are the most common and easily detectable symptoms of heat exhaustion, but there are many other signs to look out for. To be sure, if your dog is acting sick, tired, or otherwise abnormal during the hot summer months, don’t ignore it!

How to Prevent Heat Stroke in Dogs

Dog Inside a Parked Car

Getty Images

Never leave your dog inside a parked car.

Even for just a minute. Even  in the shade with the windows rolled down. Every year, hundreds of dogs left inside parked cars suffer heat stroke and die. It’s a depressing fact and another reason for a large number of admissions to pet emergency clinics and 24/7 hospitals. There is actually no definitive answer to how long it takes for a dog to die of a heat-related illness, but it can be as little as 15 minutes.

Remember, your dog is more sensitive to heat than you are! On an 80-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can reach 100 degrees in 10 minutes. On a 90-degree day, it can reach 110 degrees in 10 minutes—and 130 degrees in 30 minutes. This can be fatal.

Keep your dog well hydrated.

Always ensure that your dog has easy access to fresh water. Water dishes should be placed in the shade or kept cold (frozen water bottles are handy). Dogs also have a tendency to knock water over, so it’s recommended you have a few bowls in different places.

When exercising your dog, take a collapsible water dish or run a route where you know your dog will have access to clean water.

Avoid exercising outdoors during hot days.

If possible, walk your dog early in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest hours of the day. Bring water with you on long walks and take breaks in shaded areas if needed. Temperatures below 25 degrees are optimum. Also, consider taking shorter walks and avoiding steep hills or other areas that require more strenuous exercise. If your pooch has energy to burn and needs some form of exercise in order to stay calm, take them swimming or let them run and play in the sprinkler before heading back indoors.

Keep your house cool.

Many people turn off the AC when they leave the house to save money. But just like a parked car, your house’s interior temperature can rise rapidly on a hot day. If you have to leave your dog at home, keep the AC on (even at a conservative 75 degrees) or set up multiple electric fans to keep certain areas cool.

Giving Water to Dog

Studio MARMILADE / Shutterstock

Immediate Care for Dogs in the Event of a Heat Stroke

If your dog’s body temperature reaches above 40 degrees or it is exhibiting the above symptoms, apply immediate first aid. The most important thing is to get his or her body temperature down to a normal level.

  1. Remove the dog from the hot environment immediately.
  2. Put your dog in the bathtub. Or find a hose and make sure to let any hot water out of the hose first before hosing your dog down. If you cannot submerge your dog in water, place a towel on his back and continue to soak the towel and your dog in cold water.
  3. Run a cool shower over your pet, covering the whole body—especially the back of the head and neck. Do not submerge your dog’s head in the water. Keep the head elevated to prevent aspiration pneumonia.
  4. Do not give the dog aspirin to lower its temperature as this can lead to other problems. If the dog is unconscious, make sure no water enters the nose or mouth as well.
  5. Get them in the car to the vet and run the air conditioning to keep them cool. You can also use a spray bottle to lightly cool them with water. Do not submerge your pet in ice water as this can be more dangerous.
  6. If your dog is able to drink, give them a large bowl of water. Let your dog drink as much cool water as they want without forcing them. (Important: not cold water and no ice!)

Summer can be a lot of fun for your and your pets, but it can take a little extra attention and care to avoid unfavorable incidents. Now armed with the knowledge of how to recognize heat stroke in dogs, how to respond to it, and how to prevent it in the first place, you can look forward to a safe, fun, and happy summer with your furry best friend.

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