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Heatstroke in Dogs: Symptoms & What to Do

Whether it's hot year-round where you live or the mercury rises in the summer, heatstroke in dogs is a condition every pet parent should know about. Our Lexington vets explain the symptoms of this potentially deadly condition, and what you should do if you suspect your dog has heatstroke.

What is heatstroke in dogs?

Also known as prostration or hyperthermia, heatstroke is defined as an increase in core body temperature triggered by environmental conditions. Your pooch's normal body temperature should vary between 99 and 102.5° Fahrenheit. If that temperature rises above 105, your dog will need immediate veterinary care. Heatstroke is an extremely serious condition that can turn deadly. 

Why do dogs get heatstroke?

when people get hot, we start to sweat. Consequently, our bodies cool down. Because dogs can't sweat, they cool their bodies by panting. If they're unable to cool themselves down by panting, their body temperature might continue to rise, leading to heatstroke. 

Any size or breed of dog can suffer from heatstroke. That said, dogs with short noses, thick fur or those suffering from underlying medical conditions tend to be more prone to this condition. 

The most common causes of heatstroke in dogs are:

  • Forgetting to provide adequate water for your pup
  • Leaving a pooch in a car on a hot or sunny day
  • Lack of sufficient shade in a dog's outdoor play space

How can I tell if my dog has heatstroke?

Excessive panting is the clearest sign of heatstroke in dogs. However, panting isn't the only symptom of heatstroke in dogs. Other symptoms that pet parents should watch for include:

  • Drooling
  • Collapse
  • Vomiting
  • Mental dullness
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Reddened gums 

What should I do if I think my dog has heatstroke?

Heatstroke is a serious condition and symptoms should always be treated as an emergency! Heatstroke in dogs can lead to life-threatening issues such as abnormal blood clotting, swelling of the brain, kidney failure, and intestinal bleeding. 

If your dog is displaying signs of heatstroke head to your primary care veterinarian, or the our animal hospital for 24/7 emergency care right away. While traveling to the vet's office, keep the windows open or the air conditioner on full to help cool your pet.

If you are unable to get to a vet's office immediately, remove the dog from the hot environment straight away and allow your pup to drink as much cool water as they want without forcing them to drink. You can also help to bring your dog's body temperature down by placing a towel soaked in cool (not cold) water over them.

How is heatstroke in dogs treated?

Safely reducing your dog's body temperature will be your vet's primary focus. Cool water may be poured over your dog's head, body, and feet, or cool wet cloths may be applied to those areas. In some cases rubbing alcohol may be applied to your dog's footpads in order to help dilate pores and increase perspiration. Treatment for dogs with heatstroke may also include intravenous fluids, mild sedation and low-concentration oxygen therapy.

As well as treating the immediate symptoms of heatstroke, your vet will also monitor your dog will for secondary complications such as changes in blood pressure, electrolytes abnormalities, kidney failure, development of neurologic symptoms, and abnormal clotting. 

What can I do to prevent my dog from developing heatstroke?

When it comes to the health and wellbeing of your pup, preventing heatstroke from ever happening is key. Prevent heatstroke in dogs by following the tips below:

  • Never leave a dog alone in a car. Even if you park in the shade and leave the windows cracked the temperature in your car could skyrocket! Studies have shown that even on cooler days, the temperature inside a car can rise by as much as 40 degrees in as little as one hour
  • Know your dog's level of heatstroke risk and take steps to be extra cautious with dogs that have an increased risk. Dog breeds with flat or 'squished' faces (aka brachycephalic) are more likely to suffer from heatstroke than dogs with longer noses. At-risk breeds include bulldogs, Boston terriers, Boxers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Shih Tzus and mastiffs.
  • Dogs that are obese or those that have an underlying heart condition may be particularly susceptible to heatstroke.
  • If you must leave your dog outside for long periods of time when it's hot out, be sure to provide plenty of water and shade. A baby pool for a dog left outside may help, as they can cool themselves down by jumping in! Special cooling vests for dogs are also available for dogs that spend a lot of time in the heat.
  • Working dogs can become very focused on their job and forget to rest. Enforce rest breaks for your working dog to allow your pup's body to cool down (even if they don't want to).
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.

Is your dog displaying signs of heatstroke? Contact our Lexington hospital right away for emergency veterinary care.

Specialty & Emergency Care

Bluegrass Veterinary Specialists + Animal Emergency is open 24/7 for emergencies and is accepting patients for specialty appointments. Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lexington companion animals. 

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