Heatstroke in Dogs — What You Need to Know

Elizabeth Racine, DVM

The dog days of summer are upon us and while many of us are busy enjoying the outdoors, the high temperatures and humidity can spell trouble for your dog. Keep your dog safe this summer by being aware of the risks and warning signs of heatstroke.

Causes of heatstroke

Heatstroke often occurs due to extreme environmental temperatures, such as being left in a hot car or sitting out in the sun for long periods of time. However, it doesn’t necessarily take a heatwave to put your dog at risk. Exercise, excitement, and anything that obstructs your dog’s ability to pant — such as wearing a muzzle for long periods — can all cause a dog to overheat even in moderate temperatures.

Brachycephalic breeds — dogs with shortened noses such as Boxers, Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers — are particularly prone to overheating due to the poor conformation of their airways, which makes cooling themselves by panting inefficient compared to other breeds. Even moderately elevated temperatures can cause a brachycephalic dog to overheat, so special care should be taken with these breeds during the summer. Obese dogs and those with underlying medical conditions may also be more sensitive to heat than their healthy counterparts.

Beat the heat

The best way to deal with heatstroke in dogs is to prevent it from occurring. To keep your dog safe from the heat, limit activities to morning and evening hours when temperatures are cooler. Avoid exercise and heavy activity during the hottest parts of the day. Keep your dog indoors when temperatures are high, and use fans, air conditioners, or cooling beds to help keep your dog comfortable. When you do take your dog outside, be sure to monitor closely for signs that he may be getting overheated and always stop activity long before your dog seems tired. As always, make sure your dog has free access to clean, fresh water and plenty of shade.

Signs of heatstroke in dogs

Early signs that your dog may be overheating can include excessive panting, weakness, lethargy, and seeking shade. If your dog’s internal temperature continues to climb, you may see drooling, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, and seizures. When a dog’s body temperature reaches 107-109 degrees Fahrenheit, multiple organ system failure and death may occur.

What to do if your dog overheats

If you're concerned your dog is experiencing heatstroke, immediately seek veterinary care. Studies have shown improved outcomes when owners start cooling their dogs in the field, so if possible quickly soak your dog in cool water prior to putting him into the car and heading for the nearest veterinary hospital. But don’t waste time searching for a hose. If you don't have access to cool water nearby, focus your attention on getting your dog to a veterinarian immediately.  

Summary

Heatstroke is a common and dangerous problem for dogs at this time of year, but fortunately, it's easy to prevent with planning and careful monitoring of your dog. Remember, on a hot day your dog is always safer at home than traveling in the car with you. Keeping your dog comfortable indoors during the summer heat is the best way to keep him safe and happy during the dog days of summer!