Heatstroke in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes & What to Do

Heatstroke in dogs is a serious, potentially fatal condition. However, it is preventable. In this post, our Tracy vets list symptoms to watch for and actions to take if you suspect your dog is suffering from the condition. We also provide tips on prevention. 

Heatstroke in Dogs

As you venture out to enjoy the warm weather months with your dog, heatstroke (also referred to as heat exhaustion) is a serious — and potentially fatal — ever-present danger. When a dog's body temperature surpasses a normal range (101.5°F), hyperthermia (fever) can happen. 

Heatstroke is a type of hyperthermia that occurs when a dog's heat-dissipating mechanisms are overwhelmed by excessive heat. When body temperature elevates past 104°F, he enters the danger zone. If body temperature reaches above 105°F, this points to heatstroke. 

For this reason, we need to keep our dogs as cool and comfortable as possible throughout the summer. 

What causes heatstroke in dogs?

During the dog days of summer, the temperature inside your vehicle can quickly exceed dangerous levels (even when the interior of your vehicle does not seem "that hot" to you, keep in mind that your dog has a fur coat to contend with). Leave your dog at home while you shop. 

Breed may also contribute to heatstroke; short-nosed, flat-faced pooches tend to be more vulnerable to breathing problems. And, thick coats can quickly become uncomfortable as the mercury rises. Every dog (even those that love spending time outside playing) needs supervision, especially on the warmest days. 

What are symptoms of heatstroke in dogs?

During spring and summer, watch your canine companion closely. Heatstroke symptoms in dogs include:

  • Unable or unwilling to move (or uncoordinated movement)
  • Mental “dullness” or flatness
  • Excessive panting
  • Drooling
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Red gums
  • Signs of discomfort 
  • Collapsing or loss of consciousness

What should I do if I suspect my dog is suffering from heatstroke?

Fortunately, heatstroke in dogs can be reversed if detected early. If you notice your pup displaying any symptoms listed above, immediately take him to a cooler place with good air circulation. If symptoms do not improve quickly and you are not able to take your dog’s temperature, contact your vet immediately for advice. 

Take your dog’s temperature if you have access to a rectal thermometer. If his temperature is less than 105°F, this qualifies as an emergency and your dog will need to see a vet. If this temperature is above 105°F, hose or sponge your dog’s body with cool (not cold) water. Pay special attention to his stomach. A fan may also be useful.

After a few minutes, retake his temperature until it gets down to 103°F. Do not reduce the temperature below 103°F, as this can also lead to problems. Take your dog to a veterinarian immediately whether you are able to reduce his temperature or not.

How can I prevent heatstroke?

Be very cautious about how much time your furry friend spends outside or in the sun during the summer. Do not expose your dog to heat and humidity - their bodies (especially those with short faces) are unable to handle it.

NEVER leave your dog in a car with closed windows - even if you park in the shade. Provide your pooch with lots of shade to retreat to and easy access to cool water. A well-ventilated dog crate or specially designed seat belt for dogs may also work well.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your dog might be suffering from heatstroke? Contact Paws & Claws Veterinary Hospital as soon as possible for daytime emergency veterinary service.