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Heat Exhaustion in Dogs – Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Picture of a dog walking on the beach

As the weather begins to get warmer and warmer, overheating in dogs is something that any dog guardian should have in mind. Heat exhaustion can cause severe and even lethal conditions such as cardiac arrest or heat stroke, so it is not to be taken lightly. 

In this post, we will look at how you can prevent heat exhaustion and some of the most important symptoms that you should be on the lookout for. 

Why does heat exhaustion happen?

First of all, all dog owners should know that dogs aren’t capable of sweating out excess body heat as humans do. Dogs have few sweat glands, and most of them are located only in their paws. This means that regulating their body temperature is a lot more difficult and also inefficient. 

Naturally, dogs can still try to regulate their body temperature by open-mouthed breathing. However, even this can’t be sufficient in their attempts to prevent overheating.

But when does heat exhaustion occur? Well, no dog should have a body temperature higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit. However, when it’s warm outside, and the dog doesn’t have access to water or a cool space in which to rest, his or her body temperature can get as high as 106 degrees or even more. Once this temperature is reached, the danger of your canine friend suffering a heat stroke begins to be higher and higher. 

Some of the common reasons why heat exhaustion happens are not drinking enough water, spending too much time in the sun, whether exercising or not, and the unfortunate event where a dog is left in the car without any windows open or the ventilation turned on. 

Dogs that suffer from brachycephalic syndrome (flat-faced breeds) or those that are obese are more likely to have a harder time regulating their body temperature. Therefore, they are more exposed to heat exhaustion. 

Symptoms of heat exhaustion in dogs

One of the most obvious clinical signs that can be seen in dogs that begin suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke is difficulty breathing or excessive panting. In this situation, the dog will pant faster and at a more consistent rate than normal. 

Dehydration is another sign that every dog guardian should be on the lookout for. Dehydrated pooches are tired, have sunken eyes, they’ll pant all the time, and they will also have a dry nose. If you can measure your dog’s temperature and you notice that it is above the 103-degree mark, he or she could be suffering from heat exhaustion, too.

Excessive drooling is another common sign, but in this case, the saliva has a thicker appearance. If the dog begins to have gums of a color that’s gray, blue, purple, or bright red, there are obvious issues with the way his body tissues are receiving oxygen and nutrients. 

Another aspect worth noting is that a dog that is dehydrated rarely pees normally. He or she either produces too little urine or has difficulty urinating. Furthermore, the pet might experience a rapid pulse or begin shaking or shivering. Most dogs that are overheated can be weak, dizzy, or lethargic, and they might also be a little incoordinate. 

Dogs that have been vomiting or experiencing diarrhea are more exposed to heat exhaustion, especially if they are left in too warm places. If you combine the rise in body temperature with the dehydration caused by diarrhea or vomiting, it can be a recipe for disaster. 

There are a series of symptoms that are less discernible than the ones that we have described here. In the early stages of heat exhaustion, your canine companion might be a little less responsive to your commands or you talking to him or her. Some dogs can even lose consciousness entirely, entering a state of coma. Even if you do not measure your dog’s body temperature, you could notice how hot he/she is by simply touching your pet.

What can you do to treat heat exhaustion in dogs?

Ideally, you would be there next to your dog to tell if he or she is beginning to show the signs of heat exhaustion, but do keep in mind that this can also happen when you are not at home. Avoid leaving your dog in your yard if you know that there is a risk of him/her sitting in the sun all day. If you see any of the symptoms, take your dog to a cool and darker area. 

Because it can be dangerous to try to cool your dog’s body heat with cool or freezing water, you should use lukewarm (or room temperature) water, instead. If your dog is thirsty, avoiding giving him or her large amounts of water at once. If your canine friend happens to drink too much water, this can lead to a high risk of the animal developing bloat or volvulus. The last thing you’d want to do is to urgently take your dog to the vet and try to treat such a serious condition along with your dog’s dehydration. 

Apply water around the dog’s paws and ears, as this will assist with reducing the heat. If you have a fan, turn it on and place your Fido in front of it. Check your canine companion’s temperature every ten minutes or so to see whether any of the measures that you have taken are working or not. 

When is it time for you to take your pooch to the vet? If you don’t see any changes in his or her behavior and the temperature doesn’t begin dropping, take your dog to the vet clinic as soon as possible. Needless to say, if your dog becomes unresponsive, unconscious, or just seems to be dizzy and uncoordinated, you should call your veterinarian and seek medical assistance right away. 

Preventing heat exhaustion in dogs

If you have a dog breed that’s more prone to developing heat exhaustion than others, you should do a little research on this health problem to make sure that you ensure all of the preventive measures possible. The dog breeds that are more affected by heat exhaustion and heat stroke are extremely active ones such as Spaniels, Retrievers, and Shepherds, especially in the hot season, but brachycephalic ones like Boxers, Bulldogs, Pugs, or Shih Tzus, too. 

Since environmental factors are almost always at the root of the problem, you should make sure that the dog doesn’t have to sit in high temperature spaces for too long. Take your dog out for walks early in the morning and late in the evening so that he or she doesn’t have any sun shining directly on their body.

When you go out with your dog, always make sure that you carry a bottle of water with you so that you can cool down his or her body from time to time or give him/her some to drink. 

Any dog that is left in the car under the sun is at risk of suffering from heat exhaustion, so avoid going grocery shopping with your canine friend. You wouldn’t believe how hot it can get in a car when the windows are up and there is no ventilation turned on. There have been accidents involving children, not just pets, over time, so always make sure that you avoid doing this. In a hot car, a dog can die in 15 to 30 minutes.

If you believe that your dog has been affected by the outside temperature, measure his body temperature, but avoid using a glass thermometer (and never use a mercury thermometer) as it can be bitten and broken by your pet. 

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