Whether you live in a hot sunny climate year-round, or get just a few hot months each year, knowing the signs of heatstroke in dogs could help to save an animal's life. Our Tigard veterinary team explains how to spot the signs of heatstroke in dogs and how the condition is treated.
Hyperthermia or Heatstroke
Heatstroke is defined as a rise in core body temperature caused by external factors. The normal body temperature of your dog should be around 99-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. When a dog's body temperature exceeds 105 degrees Fahrenheit, immediate veterinary care is required. Heatstroke is a dangerous condition that can be fatal.
How Heatstroke Happens
Sweating begins as a means of lowering body temperature. Dogs cannot sweat and must instead cool their bodies by panting. If panting is insufficient to keep them cool, their body temperature may rise further, resulting in heatstroke.
Any breed or size of dog can suffer from heatstroke but dogs with thick fur, short noses, or those suffering from underlying medical conditions tend to be more susceptible to this condition.
The most common causes of heatstroke in dogs seen by our vets include:
- Leaving a dog in a car on a hot or sunny day
- Forgetting to provide adequate water for your pet
- Lack of sufficient shade in pet's outdoor play area
Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs
Excessive panting is the most obvious sign of heatstroke in dogs. However, panting isn't the only symptom of heatstroke seen in dogs. Other symptoms of heatstroke that pet parents should be aware of include:
- Reddened gums
- Mental dullness
- Loss of consciousness
- Uncoordinated movement
Helping a Dog With Heatstroke
Heatstroke is a serious condition and symptoms should always be treated as an emergency! Heatstroke in dogs can lead to life-threatening issues such as abnormal blood clotting, swelling of the brain, kidney failure, and intestinal bleeding.
Seek immediate veterinary care if your dog is displaying signs of heatstroke. While traveling to the vet's office or emergency animal hospital, keep the car windows open or the air conditioner on full to help cool your pet.
If you are unable to get to a vet's office right away, remove your dog from the hot environment and allow them to drink as much cool water as they want without forcing them to. You can also help your dog cool down by placing a towel soaked in cool (not cold) water over them.
Veterinary Treatment for Heatstroke in Dogs
Your veterinarian's primary concern will be safely lowering your dog's body temperature. Pour cool water over your dog's head, body, and feet, or apply cool wet cloths to those areas. Rubbing alcohol may be applied to your dog's footpads in some cases to dilate pores and increase perspiration. Heatstroke treatment for dogs 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, electrolyte abnormalities, kidney failure, development of neurologic symptoms, and abnormal clotting.
Prevening Heatstroke in Dogs
When it comes to the health and well-being of your beloved pet, 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 extra precautions with dogs who are at a higher risk. Dog breeds with flat or 'squished' faces (also known as brachycephalic) are more prone to heatstroke than dogs with longer noses. Bulldogs, Boston terriers, Boxers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Shih Tzus, and mastiffs are among the endangered breeds.
- 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 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).
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.