Dog Heatstroke Survival Guide
Know how to treat and prevent this dangerous condition.
What is heatstroke?
In simple terms, heatstroke occurs when a dog loses its natural ability to
regulate its body temperature. Dogs don't sweat all over their bodies the way
humans do. Canine body temperature is primarily regulated through respiration
(i.e., panting). If a dog's respiratory tract cannot evacuate heat quickly
enough, heatstroke can occur.
To know whether or not your dog is suffering from heatstroke (as opposed to
merely heat exposure), it's important to know the signs of heatstroke.
A dog's normal resting temperature is about 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once a dog's temperature rises above 105 degrees, physiological changes start to
take place, and the dog begins to experience the effects of heatstroke. At 106
to 108 degrees, the dog begins to suffer irreversible damage to the kidneys,
liver, gastrointestinal tract, heart and brain.
If a dog is experiencing heatstroke, you may observe excessive panting;
hyperventilation; increased salivation; dry gums that become pale, grayish and
tacky; rapid or erratic pulse; weakness; confusion; inattention; vomiting;
diarrhea; and possible rectal bleeding. If the dog continues to overheat,
breathing efforts become slowed or absent, and finally, seizures or coma can
The amount of damage a dog sustains when stricken with heatstroke depends on the
magnitude and duration of the exposure. The longer and more severe the exposure,
the worse the damage will be.
What to do
1 Pay attention to your dog. Recognizing the symptoms of heatstroke and
responding quickly is essential for the best possible outcome.
2 Get into the shade. If you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke, move
it into a shaded area and out of direct sunlight. Apply cool water to the inner
thighs and stomach of the dog, where there's a higher concentration of
relatively superficial, large blood vessels. Apply cool water to the foot pads,
3 Use running water. A faucet or hose is the best way to wet down your dog's
body. Never submerge your dog in water, such as in a pool or tub – this could
cool the dog too rapidly, leading to further complications, including cardiac
arrest and bloating.
4 Use cool – not cold – water. Many people make the mistake of using cold water
or ice to cool the dog. When faced with a dog suffering from heatstroke,
remember that the goal is to cool the dog. Using ice or extremely cold water is
actually counterproductive to this process because ice and cold water cause the
blood vessels to constrict, which slows blood flow, thus slowing the cooling
5 Don't cover the dog. One of the keys to successfully cooling your dog is
ensuring the water being placed on the dog can evaporate. Never cover an
overheated dog with a wet towel or blanket. This inhibits evaporation and
creates a sauna effect around your dog's body. Likewise, don't wet the dog down
and put it into an enclosed area, such as a kennel. Any air flow during the
cooling process is helpful in reducing the dog's body temperature. Sitting with
the wet dog in a running car with the air conditioner blowing is an ideal
6 Keep the dog moving. It's important to try to encourage your dog to stand or
walk slowly as it cools down. This is because the circulating blood tends to
pool in certain areas if the dog is lying down, thus preventing the cooled blood
from circulating back to the core.
7 Allow the dog to drink small amounts of water. Cooling the dog is the first
priority. Hydration is the next. Don't allow the dog to gulp water. Instead,
offer small amounts of water that's cool, but not cold. If the dog drinks too
much water too rapidly, it could lead to vomiting or bloat.
8 Avoid giving human performance drinks. Performance beverages designed for
humans are not recommended because they are not formulated with the canine's
physiology in mind. If you can't get an overheated dog to drink water, try
offering chicken- or beef-based broths.
See a veterinarian
Once your dog's temperature begins to drop, cease the cooling efforts and bring
the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your dog's temperature should be
allowed to slowly return to normal once cooling has begun. A dog that's cooled
too quickly may become hypothermic.
Even if your dog appears to be fully recovered, the veterinarian needs to check
to determine if the heatstroke caused any damage to your dog's kidneys and
liver. The effects of heatstroke can continue for 48 to 72 hours longer, even if
your dog appears normal.
William Grant, DVM, a veterinarian for 20 years and former president of the
Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, has treated hundreds of
cases of heatstroke, ranging from mild to fatal.
According to Grant, the most common cause of death following heatstroke is
disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (blood coagulating throughout the body),
or DIC, which can occur hours or days after the heatstroke episode.
DIC can also be caused by pyometra or septicemia, but Grant says heatstroke is
the most common cause. "Once a dog develops DIC, it may bleed in the thorax,
abdomen, nose and intestine," Grant says. "Once the blood-clotting factors are
consumed, there is an inability of the blood vessels to prevent leaking; the
condition is almost always fatal." For this reason, follow-up veterinary care is
essential following a heatstroke episode, even if your dog seems to be
Prevention is the best medicine
The best treatment for heatstroke is prevention. Especially during the summer
months, it's essential to be aware of the potential for heatstroke. Knowing the
signs of heatstroke, and taking the necessary steps to prevent it, will ensure
your dog can have a safe and active life year-round.