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Heatstroke in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Summer is a great time for you and your pooch to enjoy some outdoor adventures together. Whether you’re going for your daily walk, playing catch in the park, hiking, swimming, or simply going for a car ride, it’s important to be mindful of rising temperatures and their effects on your dog’s health. 

Keeping your dog cool in the hot summer months is crucial, as heatstroke is a serious, potentially life-threatening issue. The earlier you can detect signs that your dog is overheated, the better. 

What is Heatstroke? 

Heatstroke, or hyperthermia, refers to elevated body temperature. Your dog’s normal body temperature should be 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit; heatstroke occurs when his body temperature is above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Humans have millions of sweat glands to help regulate body temperature. While dogs sweat minimal amounts through their paw pads, this isn’t enough to help cool them off. Instead, they use panting as a primary cooling method to circulate air throughout their body. 

When panting isn’t enough to cool off your pup, such as in an exceptionally hot environment, his body temperature will continue to rise. If not corrected quickly, overheating can lead to serious issues and be potentially fatal.

Causes of Heatstroke in Dogs

Simply put, heatstroke is caused when your dog’s body temperature rises more quickly than he can dissipate heat. This means that, essentially, exposure to any hot environment can lead to an overheated dog. 

Leaving a dog in a hot car and/or neglecting to provide shade and water while outside are the most common causes of heatstroke. 

Some canines are more prone to heatstroke than others; breeds with short noses and breathing issues, dogs with thick fur, and dogs who are obese or dealing with underlying medical issues are at a higher risk of becoming overheated. 

However, too much vigorous exercise on a hot or humid day can also put even the healthiest dog at risk of heatstroke.

Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs

The most obvious symptoms of heatstroke is excessive panting—this is your dog’s primary cooling method, so it means he’s putting in some extra effort to cool down. 

Additional heatstroke symptoms include: 

  • Drooling
  • Bright red gums and tongue (in extreme cases, the gums may then turn white or blue)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Hot skin
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Muscle tremors
  • Lethargy or even collapse

Treating Heatstroke in Dogs

Heatstroke requires immediate action, so it’s important to help your dog cool down as soon as you notice any symptoms of overheating. 

Bring him to a cool, shady area. Place a cool washcloth or towel on his back or belly, or spray it with cool (not cold) water. Don’t immerse him in water completely, especially if he is weak or unconscious. 

Do not give your dog any medication such as aspirin to lower his temperature, as this could lead to further problems. Instead, continue cooling him off with cool water or a wet towel and make sure he has access to plenty of water

Call your vet (or a virtual vet hotline) for instructions on next steps. Better yet, let your vet or an emergency animal clinic know that you’re on your way. 

Veterinary treatment may include treating your dog for shock, along with replacing lost fluids. Some dogs may require medication as well. The vet will also check for any potential health complications that may occur as a result of heatstroke.

Keeping Your Dog Cool

No dog owner wants to go through the stressful, scary experience of a heatstroke emergency. Prevention is the best way to avoid heatstroke, so be sure to keep the temperature in mind whenever you take your pup outside to play. 

On particularly hot days, go for walks in the mornings or evenings when the sun isn’t at its peak. Limit outdoor playtime, no matter how enthusiastic your dog is. Besides, there are still plenty of ways to play together indoors

Whether your dog is lounging in the yard or out for an adventure, be sure to provide plenty of cool water and rest periods in the shade. 

If you’re going for a car ride together, be sure he has plenty of ventilation. Never leave your dog in a car with the windows closed—period. Even if you’re parked in the shade, if you are unable to take Fido with you once you arrive at your destination, it’s best to leave him at home. 

In addition to heatstroke, seasonal allergies are a common canine ailment during the warmer months of the year. Support your pup’s overall health with Pet Honesty’s Advanced Allergy SkinHealth Chews, which use natural ingredients to promote gut, immune, and skin health. 

For dogs who need additional skin support, try Pet Honesty’s Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil. Safe for both dogs and cats, Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil promotes a healthy immune system along with skin and joints.