Heat Stroke in Dogs, a Preventable Killer

By Andrea Stone CCS CDW

Give your dog a way to keep cool!
Heatstroke can strike a dog in minutes on hot, humid days, and may prove fatal if it's not treated promptly. The good news is that it's preventable. Below are listed some of the symptoms, ways to treat and prevent it, and the dogs most likely to suffer from heatstroke.

What is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke occurs when your dog is no longer able to maintain his normal body temperature of approximately 101F and it rises to 105F and above. At temperatures above 106F your dog's internal organs will start to breakdown, and if he's not cooled quickly enough, he will die. Even if you can bring his temperature down, he may well have suffered irreversible internal damage.

Dog's regulate their temperature primarily through panting. On hot, humid days they are unable to cool their bodies effectively and as a result their body temperature may rise rapidly. If your dog's temperature exceeds 106F, you may only have minutes to save his life.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke

If your dog has heat stroke he will progressively show these signs:

  • Excessive panting
  • Pale or very red gums
  • Bright red tongue
  • Lethargy & weakness
  • Disorientation; he may appear drunk or fail to respond to his name
  • Increased heart rate
  • Thick, ropey saliva
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Collapse
  • Catatonia or coma
  • Death


    Heat stroke most often occurs when a dog is confined during very hot weather, either in a car, kennel or crate; the first thing to do is remove your dog from wherever he was confined. Make sure your dog is out of the sun and has access to water but don't let him drink too much, too quickly.

    Cool him with cool/tepid water - either immerse him in a bath, gently hose him or apply cool towels to his body. It is very important that you do not leave wet towels on your dog and do not use very cold water. Both prevent your dog form being able to cool himself.

    Move your dog to an area where there is cool air circulating, such as an air conditioned room or stand him in front of a fan. The cool circulating air will help your dog to reduce his own temperature.

    Keep monitoring your dog's temperature with a rectal thermometer; once it returns to normal stop the cooling process. The normal body temperature for a dog is about 100 – 102.5 degrees.

    Whilst you are cooling your dog down phone your local veterinary emergency clinic, explain the situation and perform any additional treatment they suggest before taking him to the clinic. Consulting a veterinarian is critical if your dog is experiencing hyperthermia. Do not underestimate the seriousness of the problem. Even if you manage to reduce your dog's temperature at home, take him to your vet immediately for a thorough checkup - internal damage to your dog's organs might have taken place even though he recovered from heat stroke.

    Dogs Prone to Heatstroke

  • Young puppies and older dogs
  • Overweight dogs
  • Dogs with heart conditions
  • Dogs with an existing illness or recovering from illness or surgery
  • Short faced (brachycephalic) breeds such as Boxers, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs
  • Double coated breeds such as Chow Chows
  • Dogs bred for cold climates such as Malamutes, Huskies and Newfoundlands.
  • Be aware, however that ANY dog can suffer from heatstroke!

    Preventing Heat Stroke

  • Be aware that the outside temperature can be a lot warmer than that shown on your thermometer -on humid days the relative temperature is much higher
  • Many dogs really don't know when to stop - try and keep your dog's activity to a minimum on hot and humid days
  • Exercise your dog early in the morning and/or later in the evening when the temperature is cooler. However it is okay to have a few days “off” when it is particularly hot.
  • Never muzzle your dog on hot days.
  • Avoid places like the beach and especially concrete or asphalt areas where heat is reflected and there is no access to shade.
  • Don’t take your dog to outdoor, human-oriented events such as flea markets, Art In The Park, craft shows, car shows, parades and carnivals. These activities really have little relevance to your dog and are often very hot and crowded with little opportunity for your dog to relax and cool off.
  • If possible keep your dog indoors during the heat of the day in a well ventilated or air conditioned room
  • If your dog is outside during the day, make sure there are plenty of shaded areas for him to lie in and he has access to cold water. If he likes water, put a wading pool out for him in a shady part of the garden so he can lie in that to keep cool. Running a sprinkler can be useful in two ways – your lawn will be watered and your dog can cool himself as needed.