Whether you live in warm weather year-round or are enjoying the outdoors in the summer, heatstroke in dogs is something every pet parent should be aware of. Here, our Orlando vets list the symptoms of this potentially fatal condition, and what to do next if you think your dog is experiencing heatstroke.
What is heatstroke in dogs?
Also referred to as hyperthermia or prostration, heatstroke means the body's core temperature as increased due to environmental conditions. Your dog's normal body temperature should be between 99-102.5ºF. If your pup's body temperature rises above 105ºF, he or she will need immediate veterinary care. Heatstroke is an extremely serious condition that can be life-threatening, and even deadly if not treated early.
Why do dogs suffer from heatstroke?
Humans sweat when we get hot. This bodily function cools us down. However, dogs cannot sweat and will pant to cool their bodies. If they are unable to cool themselves down by panting, their body temperature can 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 that suffer from underlying medical conditions tend to be more vulnerable to the condition.
The most common causes of heatstroke in dogs include:
- Lack of sufficient shade outdoors
- Leaving a dog in a vehicle on a sunny or hot day
- Forgetting to provide enough water for your pet
What are signs of heatstroke in dogs?
Excessive panting is the most obvious sign of heatstroke in dogs, but there are many others to watch for. Other heatstroke symptoms in dogs include:
- Mental dullness
- Loss of consciousness
- Reddened gums
- Uncoordinated movement
What should I do if I think my dog has heatstroke?
Symptoms of this serious condition should always be treated as a veterinary emergency. Heatstroke in dogs can easily lead to life-threatening issues such as kidney failure, intestinal bleeding, abnormal blood clotting and swelling of the brain.
If your dog is showing signs of heatstroke, come to our animal hospital right away for emergency care or head to your nearest emergency animal hospital after hours. While traveling to the vet's office, keep the air conditioner on full or the windows open to help your dog cool down.
If you are unable to get to your vet's office immediately, take the dog away from the hot environment right away and allow your pup to drink as much cool water as they'd like (without forcing them to drink). Placing a towel soaked in cool (not cold) water over your dog's body can also help to bring their body temperature down.
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).