Heat Stroke in Dogs

Summer is upon us! And after the most miserable winter I can remember, we ALL want to be outside, our pets included. But before it gets too hot, let’s just take a minute to remember that there IS such a thing as TOO hot for our pets.

Heat stroke in dogs is something veterinarians see every summer. The normal body temperature for dogs falls between 100.5 -102.5 degrees F. While hyperthermia refers to an elevated temperature due to a variety of possible causes, heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer regulate its temperature resulting in direct thermal injury to body tissues. This generally occurs between 105 – 106 degrees F. At temperatures this high, widespread damage to internal organs can occur that, if left too long, may be irreversible and fatal.

Dogs are more susceptible to overheating due to their inability to sweat, except through their feet. They must cool themselves via panting.

One of the most common ways animals suffer from heat stroke is being left in a hot car. While 75 degrees may feel like heaven to us, the car (even with windows open) can become a sauna. Studies show that on a 75-degree day, the inside of a car can reach 95 degrees within 10 minutes, 110 degrees in 30 minutes, and 120 degrees in an hour. Every year, hundreds of pets die from heat stroke due to being left in parked vehicles.

However, there are other ways for our pets to get too hot. Simply spending too long outdoors in extreme temperatures, or exercising in hot weather, can result in a rapid rise in body temperature. Unfortunately, some dogs are more prone than others. Brachycephalic breeds (those with short faces such as Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers, and Mastiffs), those with thick hair coats (such as Akitas, Huskies, and German Shepherds), and black dogs can retain heat more easily. Dogs with underlying heart disease, uncontrolled seizures, or those that are obese are also more at risk.

“An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure”

  1. NEVER leave your pet in a parked vehicle!
  2. Pets should be exercised in the early morning and late evening on hot days, and keep the duration limited. If it’s too hot for you to exercise, it’s too hot for your pet. If Fido is panting excessively, call it a day, and ALWAYS carry water. And remember, just as we need time to adjust to the heat, so do our pets. Be sure to slowly introduce your dog into exercise when the weather abruptly changes to warmer temperatures. Lastly, remember that our dogs don’t always realize when they are getting too warm.
  3. Pay attention to the humidity. Panting results in evaporation of moisture from the lungs, taking heat away from the body. If the humidity is high, dogs are unable to effectively cool themselves.
  4. Shelter/shade and water should be available AT ALL TIMES when outside. Never rely on a dog house for shade. The lack of airflow in a dog house actually makes it worse.

Signs of Heat Stroke

  1. Excessive panting or difficulty breathing
  2. Restlessness or agitation
  3. Excessive drooling and thick saliva
  4. Weakness
  5. Vomiting or diarrhea
  6. Racing heart rate
  7. Bright red or purple gums and tongue
  8. Seizures
  9. Unconsciousness

What to Do In The Event of Heat Stroke

  1. Remove your pet from the environment to a cool or shaded area.
  2. Go to the closest veterinarian immediately.
  3. During travel, place cool, wet towels over their neck, armpits, groin, ears, and paws. The goal of cooling is to reach 103-104 degrees. Heat stroke damages the “internal thermometer”, and these dogs can easily become too cold. NEVER use cold water or ice to cool your pet. Cold water actually constricts superficial blood vessels, trapping heat inside.
  4. Offer water if alert and interested, but NEVER force water into your pet’s mouth.

If you are ever concerned your pet may be too hot, contact your veterinarian immediately.