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Heatstroke in Dogs | Risks, Signs and Treatment

Picture of a family in a field with a dog

Heatstroke in dogs, also known as hyperthermia, can be deadly if it’s not treated quickly. As you may know, dogs are not very good at cooling themselves. Unlike humans, they can’t sweat except on the paw pads. They cool their bodies by panting. This is often inefficient when temperatures are hot. When the weather is very hot, you need to watch your dog for signs of heatstroke to prevent more serious health problems.

Which dogs are at risk?

Heatstroke in dogs most often occurs in the hottest part of the year, during the summer months. If your dog is overweight, has health problems such as hypothyroidism or laryngeal paralysis, or is just out of shape, he is more likely to experience problems with heatstroke. These dogs can be especially vulnerable if they use up a lot of energy when it’s hot.

Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds can also be at special risk of heatstroke when temperatures and humidity are high.

Signs of heatstroke

Heatstroke usually happens when the surrounding temperature is too warm for a dog’s ability to reduce his body heat. The longer your dog is exposed to this heat and the hotter it is, the worse the effects on your dog.

Early signs of heatstroke include:

  • Heavy panting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Bright red gums and tongue
  • Standing 4-square in an attempt to maintain balance

Your dog can also become hyperactive and very excited.

As your dog is exposed to the heat longer his condition will worsen. Advanced signs of heatstroke include signs of shock:

  • White or blue gums
  • Lethargy, unwillingness to move
  • Uncontrollable urination or defecation
  • Labored, noisy breathing
  • Higher heart rate
  • A drop in blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irregular pulse
  • Muscle tremors

At this point your dog may collapse and become comatose. If this happens, you need to take your dog to the vet immediately. This is an emergency!

Dogs and cars

Dogs can experience heatstroke in different places but the most common cause of heatstroke is being confined in a closed vehicle. The temperature in a closed automobile can become dangerously high in a very short time with fatal results for your dog.

Treating heatstroke

If your dog is experiencing heatstroke it’s vital that you begin lowering your dog’s temperature.

  • Apply rubbing alcohol to your dog’s paw pads;
  • Apply ice packs to the groin area;
  • Place your dog in the bathtub and run a cool (not cold) shower over him, especially his head and back; let the tub fill with water so your dog’s body is bathed in cool water;
  • Alternatively, you can hose your dog down with water if you are outside;
  • Massage your dog’s legs to help circulation and prevent the risk of shock;
  • Allow your dog to drink as much cool water as he wants;
  • Offer Pedialyte (or similar) to restore electrolytes.

Some sources say that you should limit the amount of water your dog drinks while he is cooling but the veterinary web site petMD we checked said that dogs could drink as much water as they wanted.

Keep checking your dog’s temperature while you are cooling him. When his temperature has stabilized between 100 and 102 degrees F (normal for a dog), you can stop.

If you are unable to cool your dog down or you start to see signs of advanced heatstroke, take your dog to a veterinarian right away. Even if your dog has not experienced severe heatstroke, it’s a good idea to have your veterinarian check him out. There can be internal problems related to heatstroke such as brain swelling, kidney failure, and abnormal blood clotting. On your way to the vet, keep your car windows open and the air conditioner on.

Veterinary treatment

Severe heatstroke can be fatal to dogs if not treated promptly. Your veterinarian can replace fluids and minerals that your dog has lost. S/he can also identify any secondary health problems that your dog might have as a result of heatstroke. IV therapy and monitoring for complications such as kidney failure and other problems can help your dog recover.

Prevention

Prevention is the best way to ensure your dog doesn’t suffer from heatstroke. Limit the amount of time your dog exercises or plays outside in hot weather, especially during the hottest part of the day. If you are training your dog outside or if he’s exercising, wait for cooler parts of the day. Always provide lots of cool, fresh water for your dog, along with shade, and frequent rest periods when it’s hot outside. All of these suggestions are especially important if you have a brachycephalic (short-nosed) breed such as a Pug or French Bulldog.

Conclusion

Heatstroke can affect any dog but dogs that are obese, have health problems, and brachycephalic breeds can be more sensitive to heat and humidity. Be especially careful that you don’t leave your dog in an enclosed vehicle since temperatures can rise quickly. If your dog displays signs of heatstroke, take steps to cool him. If your dog shows signs of severe heatstroke despite your efforts to cool him, get him to a veterinarian immediately!

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