With summer fast approaching, pet owners need to be aware of heatstroke in dogs. Heatstroke is a dangerous illness that can be life-threatening. However, you can take steps to prevent it, recognize the signs, and get help if needed.
Read on to better understand heatstroke in dogs and keep your pup safe and happy during the warmer months ahead.
What Is Heatstroke?
Heatstroke occurs when a dog's body temperature rises far above the normal range of 101-102.5°F (38.3-39.2°C). It is related to hyperthermia, a general term that describes any higher-than-normal body temperature.
Hyperthermia can be mild or severe and has many potential causes. In contrast, heatstroke refers to a severely elevated body temperature — around 105°F or more — associated with environmental factors like weather (1).
Heatstroke in dogs is a medical emergency. It can lead to organ dysfunction, brain damage, and even death without treatment.
Causes of Heatstroke in Dogs
Dogs are generally more prone to heatstroke than humans, so you'll need to observe your dog carefully in hot weather. Your dog could be in trouble even if you're coping with the heat just fine.
But why does heatstroke affect dogs so strongly? In humans, sweating is an efficient way to dissipate body heat. Feeling sweaty is uncomfortable, but perspiration is a very efficient way for the body to cool off.
It's a myth that dogs don't sweat at all. However, sweating doesn't help your dog much when it comes to beating the heat.
Your dog's only proper sweat glands are found between their paw pads. You may see evidence of this trait on hot days when they leave damp paw prints behind. Instead, dogs mainly rely on panting to regulate their body temperature.
When a dog's ability to dissipate heat with panting is overwhelmed by hot weather or other factors, their internal temperature can rise dangerously and lead to heatstroke.
Types of Heatstroke in Dogs
Heatstroke is generally associated with hot environmental conditions. However, there are more ways for heatstroke to happen than you may think.
Situations that increase heatstroke risk in dogs include:
- Confinement in a parked car or other unventilated space
- High temperatures, especially with high humidity
- Lack of shade
- Limited access to water
- Excessive exercise, especially in hot weather
- Age (puppies and senior dogs)
- Underlying health conditions
- Smush-nose" or brachycephalic breed (Pugs, French Bulldogs, etc.)
- Large breed (Chow Chow, Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, etc.)
Dog Heatstroke Symptoms
Heatstroke can be life-threatening for dogs and may lead to severe medical complications (2). However, knowing the early signs of heatstroke can help you take action before it gets worse.
Early recognition of the signs of heatstroke is crucial for prompt treatment and recovery.
Symptoms of heatstroke in dogs include:
- Excessive panting and drooling
- Dry, red gums and tongue
- Weakness or lethargy
- Loss of balance
When a dog's exposure to excessive heat continues, signs of shock will appear. These signs indicate a medical emergency and include pale, white, or blue gums, rapid or irregular heart rate, muscle tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, and unconsciousness.
If your dog shows signs of shock, their life is in danger. Take them to an emergency veterinarian right away for heatstroke treatment.
What to Do If Your Dog Experiences Heatstroke
If you suspect your dog is showing early signs of heatstroke, immediate action is crucial.
First, move your dog to a shaded area or an air-conditioned building to help reduce their body temperature. Next, gently wet your dog's body with cool water, focusing on the neck, legs, and belly where blood vessels are closest to the skin.
Avoid ice-cold water, and do not submerge your dog in a pool, lake, or other body of water. Instead, apply cool or tepid water with a hose, bucket, or towel. Offer drinking water as well, but don't force it if your dog won't drink.
During this phase, call your veterinarian for guidance.
They'll help you determine if a visit to the clinic is necessary. Head to the nearest veterinary hospital or office as soon as possible if symptoms don't improve or progress to signs of shock.
Preventing Heatstroke in Dogs
Prevention is the key to keeping your dog safe from heatstroke. Here are some essential tips to protect your pup:
1. Never leave your dog in a parked car: The temperature inside a car can rise rapidly, even with the windows cracked. Even if you'll only be gone for a few minutes, it's better to be safe than sorry. Being forgotten in a parked car is the most common cause of fatal heatstroke in dogs (3).
2. Provide ample shade and water: Ensure your dog has access to a shaded area to cool off and plenty of fresh water to stay hydrated.
3. Avoid hot surfaces: Hot pavement, sand, and other surfaces can burn your dog's paws and contribute to overheating. Walk your dog on grass, dirt, or the shady side of the street during hot weather.
4. Monitor exercise: Avoid overexertion during hot weather by limiting exercise and outdoor playtime. Schedule walks and physical activities in the morning or evening when it's cooler outside.
Heatstroke in dogs is a dangerous condition, but prevention is key. Understanding the causes and signs of heatstroke can help you protect your furry friend this summer.
Remember to be vigilant during hot weather and consult your veterinarian if you suspect your dog is experiencing heatstroke.