Heat Stroke in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

by Richard Walther, DVM
Pawlicy Advisor
Pet Care Blog
Heat Stroke in Dogs
Heat stroke in dogs can happen in minutes and may be life-threatening without immediate action. Learn how to spot, treat, and prevent the signs of heat stroke in dogs to keep your pet safe.

It gets incredibly hot during these summer months, and it can be easy to sometimes forget that dogs overheat just like we do. Heat stroke in dogs can be life-threatening if undetected, but how can we tell the difference between a dog having fun in the sun and one who is starting to overheat?

To help, we’re going to break down the signs of heat stroke in dogs and and tips on heat exhaustion for pet parents. Be sure to read through the entire post to learn how to prevent heat stroke in dogs and which breeds are more prone to overheating.

Table of Contents:

Heat stroke vs. heat exhaustion in dogs

According to the Veterinary Centers of America, heat stroke is the common term for hyperthermia, a condition that occurs when a dog has an abnormally high temperature of 103-degrees Fahrenheit or greater.

The difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke in dogs is the degree in temperature spike:

  • Heat exhaustion (also known as heat stress) refers to body temperatures between 103℉ and 105℉.
  • Heat stroke is the most serious form of hyperthermia and occurs when a dog's temperature rises above 106℉.
  • Permanent brain damage, multiple organ failure, and death occurs at critical temperatures around 107℉ to 109℉.

Unfortunately, the mortality rate of heat stroke in dogs is estimated to be around 50%, per Bellevue Animal Hospital. Dogs have naturally a higher body temperature than humans, with a resting state between 99℉ and 101℉. That means they can easily overheat very fast, often within a matter of minutes.

What causes heat stroke in dogs?

According to the American Kennel Club, the number one reason why dogs experience heat stroke is due to being left in a car unattended. Dogs can also have heat stroke from being left outside in warm weather, exercising on a hot day, or becoming dehydrated on a long walk. Sudden changes to a warmer or more humid climate can make dogs susceptible to heat stroke.

Many pet parents don’t realize that humidity significantly increases the risk of heat stroke in pets. The additional moisture in the air makes it more difficult for dogs to cool themselves down by evaporating the moisture in the air they breathe when panting. If left in humid conditions, a dog can't regulate their temperature as efficiently and may develop severe heat stroke.

Dog laying in summer heat

Signs of heat stroke in dogs

If a dog is having a heat stroke, symptoms can manifest in many different ways. The most common signs of heat stroke include:

  • Heavy panting
  • Fast breathing
  • Bright red gums and tongue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive drooling
  • A sudden increase in hyperactivity
  • Stumbling or lack of coordination

If a dog continues to be exposed to heat, more severe symptoms like a very fast heart rate, drop in blood pressure, dilated pupils, muscle tremors, and eventual collapse may occur.

Long-term effects of heat stroke in dogs

Even with treatment, heat stroke can have a lasting impact on your dog’s wellbeing, which is just one of the reasons why immediate action is so crucial.

According to the Memphis Veterinary Specialists, a dog with heat stroke can experience long-term side effects like kidney failure, abnormal clotting, blood pressure changes, and neurologic disorders.

If you notice your pet experiencing dog heat stroke symptoms, we recommend immediately taking your dog indoors and contacting your veterinarian for advice on next steps to tak.

How to treat heat stroke in dogs

With heat stroke, time is of the essence, because it can significantly affect your dog’s chances of survival. If you think they might be overheating, get them out of the sun as soon as possible.

  • Quickly offer your dog cool water
  • Wet your pup’s paws in cold water
  • Drizzle cool water over their head in a bathtub or sink
  • Gently hose them off outside
  • Drape a cool compress around their head
  • If you're near a body of water, encourage them to take a dip

Lab cooling off with water on head

If your dog’s symptoms continue to worsen or they begin to display severe side effects of heat stroke, like seizures or unresponsiveness, it’s immediately take them to the closest veterinarian or animal hospital for treatment.

How to prevent heat stroke in dogs

The number one way to prevent heat stroke in dogs is by keeping your dogs indoors with access to plenty of water on hot or humid days.

However, this can be unrealistic to follow entirely as our dogs need to go outdoors for exercise or to relieve themselves. When you take your pup out, try to do it during cooler parts of the day and make sure they have access to shade and water constantly.

Other ways to keep your pup cool include:

  • Never leave your dog unattended in a car
  • Give your dog a cool mat or wet towels to lay on
  • Provide them with an air-conditioned area to cool down in
  • Pay attention to their panting - if they are panting heavily, take them inside
  • Trim your dog’s long hair to keep them cooler, but avoid shaving them as this exposes their sensitive skin to the sun
  • Bring water on walks (collapsible water bowls can be very handy)

Which dog breeds are prone to heat stroke?

Your dog’s breed can impact how susceptible they are to a variety of conditions, including heat stroke.

For example, brachycephalic dog breeds are at an increased risk of heat stroke due to their short noses, which impedes their ability to pant efficiently, decreasing their ability to cool down.

Examples of brachycephalic dog breeds include:

Other breeds of dogs that may be more susceptible to heat stroke include dogs with thick, full coats, such as Siberian Huskies or Newfoundlands. If you have a dog with a thick coat, you may consider having it trimmed or thinned during the summer months to keep your pup cooler.

You should also consider your dog’s energy level. If you have a puppy or energetic dog that is prone to playing hard, they are more likely to tire out in the heat faster.

Newborn puppies and older dogs are also at an increased risk of developing heat stroke due to their inability to regulate their internal temperature as effectively as other dogs. Older dogs may also have more health problems, like lung disease, that make it more challenging for them to regulate their body temperature.

Key Takeaways

  • All dogs can suffer from heat stroke, and it’s up to us as pet parents to do our best to prevent our pups from overheating.
  • It's essential to learn the signs of heat stroke in dogs so you can immediately help them recover before their life is on the line.
  • Summer is filled pet safety risks that make it a great time to buy pet insurance so you know you and your pet will be protected for heat-related illnesses and accidents.

Unfortunately, things can still happen even with the best planning, and emergency treatment for a dog with heat stroke can be pricey.

Don’t fret though! Pawlicy provides you with a financial safety net should anything happen to your pet. The peace of mind that your dog will have access to gold-standard veterinary care is the ultimate gift that will keep giving to you and your pup.

Grab your free pet insurance quote today and relax knowing that your pup is covered should the worst happen.

Ricky Walther, DVM

About the author

Richard Walther, DVM

Associate Veterinarian - Blue Ravine Animal Hospital

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner at Blue Ravine Animal Hospital in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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