Can Dogs Get Heat Stroke?

We’ve all been out and about on a hot summer’s day and at some point felt the urge to just go and relax in the shade for a few minutes. But what you may not know is that this is your body’s way of telling you that you are approaching the risk threshold for developing a hyperthermia-type condition such as heat stroke. This problem arises when the body's ability to dissipate heat is lesser than the amount of heat it is absorbing from the environment and/or generating via physical exertion. 

Are dogs also at risk of developing heat stroke? Yes, they are. In the same way that it is not unusual to see heat injuries in athletes like endurance runners who undergo sustained physical activity in sometimes extremely hot conditions, we have to be aware of the state of our furry pets when they are in a hot environment.

All animals have the potential to develop heat stroke and though some are particularly well suited to living and exerting themselves in hot climates, even they have limits. If your dog starts to display symptoms of heat stroke, it is imperative to seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

What Are The Signs Of Heat Stroke in Dogs?

An early sign of your dog feeling the effects of the high temperatures is lack of response to your commands. If you have a dog that typically listens and obeys but seems to be less responsive when you are on a walk or playing at the park, they may be developing heat stroke. You may notice that they keep wanting to lie down and their eyes are a bit glossy. These are early signs that indicate you need to get your dog in the shade and drinking water right away.

If your furry buddy is suffering from severe heat exhaustion, they may start to exhibit symptoms such as a noticeably raised body temperature in conjunction with a rapid rate of panting and a loss of coordination when moving. You may also see the tongue turning bright red due to increased blood flow, as well as the presence of thick saliva and seemingly dry lips or nose. In severe cases, it is not unusual for a dog to experience vomiting and diarrhea or even convulsions. 

These signs typically occur as a result of your dog’s raised body temperature affecting the proper production and function of the enzymes responsible for regulating the processes of the major organs. This means that if the condition is allowed to persist, your dog is placed at risk of serious damage to their health, with heat stroke proving lethal in many circumstances. To diagnose the problem, a vet will usually only have to perform a cursory physical examination, as the symptoms themselves are extremely distinctive.

For more information pertaining to this topic, you can visit our condition guide: Heat Stroke in Dogs.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Heat Stroke?

Because of the fact that heat stroke is almost always due to the temperature of the dog’s immediate environment, removing them from a hot locale (such as a parked car or sunny backyard) is one of the first steps to take. Bring them inside if possible and start to wet their body with cool (never cold) water. Place wet towels on them, including under the armpits and between the legs. Encourage them to drink water to re-hydrate their body. It is recommended that you put cool water on their ears and paws, too. You can place them in front of a fan and try to take their temperature. If after your efforts to cool them their temperature is still higher than 103, take them to the veterinary clinic. In any case, call the vet to discuss the overheating so they can determine if your dog needs to be checked for organ damage, dehydration, or shock.

A vet will follow a similar procedure to yours, as their objective will be to lower your dog's body temperature as fast as possible. Because of this, they will usually immerse your dog in a cool bath and pay close attention to their core temperature. As hydration is another key component of treating heat stroke, the vet may start your companion on ‘fluid therapy’, whereby an intravenous drip is used to deliver fluids directly into the body, ensuring that they start to have an effect as fast as possible. 

Following treatment, it is not unusual for the vet to perform blood tests to make sure that there is no evidence of serious organ damage present. Your dog will be able to return home after a brief period of observation, but you should keep in mind that they will be in a severely weakened state and so must be left to rest and regain their strength in the wake of the ordeal. Heat stroke can have a range of effects on the body depending on its severity, so follow-up treatment may be required.

How Can I Prevent Dog Heat Stroke?

There are precautions that you can take to ensure that your dog does not feel the effects of an extremely hot environment. Always keep your dog's water dish full of fresh water. Do not leave them outside on a hot day, and never leave them in the car (even on a cloudy day with the windows down) as the inside temperature can climb to dangerous heights within minutes. Energetic dogs that need exercise to keep them content can be walked in the cool, early morning hours or later in the evening. Not walking your dog on a hot day is especially important if they are a brachycephalic breed like the Pug or Boxer. The way that their respiratory systems are formed (flat face and pushed in nose) makes them susceptible to breathing problems when outdoors on an extremely warm day. Other options for exercise are to take them to the lake for a swim, or let them play in the sprinkler in a shady area of the back yard. Always have a cool area in your home that your dog can retreat to for a rest.

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