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Heatstroke in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes & What to Do

Our vets in Mamaroneck explain heatstroke in dogs and list symptoms to watch for as the dog days of summer wear on. We also recommend ways to prevent heatstroke and what to do if you think your dog may be suffering from this serious condition. 

What is heatstroke in dogs?

The dog days of summer are upon us. As fun as these times are, it's also a high-risk time for dogs as heatstroke (also referred to as heat exhaustion) is a serious, ever-present — and potentially fatal — danger for our pups. When a dog's body temperature is elevated above the normal range (101.5°F), hyperthermia (fever) can set in. 

A form of hyperthermia, heatstroke occurs when excessive heat overwhelms the heat dissipating mechanisms in a dog's body. When your pooch's body temperature rises past 104°F, she enters the danger zone. If body temperature reads above 105°F, this is indicative of heatstroke. 

For this reason, we need to ensure our dogs remain as cool and comfortable as possible when it gets hot during the summer months.

Causes of Heatstroke in Dogs

On hot summer days, your vehicle's temperature can quickly rise above dangerous levels (even when the interior of our vehicle does not seem "that hot" to us, keep in mind that your dog has a fur coat on). Leave your pooch at home while you shop. 

Lack of access to shade and water in your backyard, at the cottage or at the beach can also cause problems. Water and shade our essential on warm weather days for both pets and people — especially for dogs with medical conditions such as obesity, and older dogs. 

Breed is another potential contributing factor to heatstroke; short-nosed, flat-faced pups tend to be more susceptible to breathing issues. As you might imagine, thick fur coats can quickly become uncomfortable. Every dog (even those who relish spending time outside engaging in activity) needs closes supervision, especially on days when the mercury rises into high double digits and even into the hundreds. 

Heatstroke Symptoms in Dogs

During spring and summer, watch carefully for signs of heatstroke in dogs including any combination of the following symptoms:

  • Signs of discomfort
  • Mental “dullness” or flatness
  • Unable or unwilling to move (or uncoordinated movement)
  • Excessive panting
  • Drooling
  • Collapsing or loss of consciousness
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Red gums

If your pooch is displaying any of the above heatstroke symptoms it's time to take action.

What To Do If Your Dog Shows Signs of Heatstroke

Fortunately, heatstroke in dogs can be reversed if detected early. If you notice your pup displaying any symptoms listed above, immediately take them to a cooler place with good air circulation. If symptoms do not improve quickly and you are not able to take your dog’s temperature, contact your vet immediately for advice. 

Take your dog’s temperature if you have access to a rectal thermometer. If their temperature is above 104°F, this qualifies as an emergency and your dog will need to see a vet. If this temperature is above 105°F, immediately hose or sponge your dog’s body with cool (not cold) water. Pay special attention to their stomach. A fan may also be useful. Contact your vet or your nearest emergency vet for further instructions.

Heatstroke is a very serious condition. Take your dog to a vet right away whether you are able to reduce their temperature or not.

How to Help Prevent Your Dog From Getting Heatstroke

To help prevent your pooch from getting heatstroke be very cautious about how much time your dog spends outside or in the sun during the summer. Do not expose your dog to heat and humidity - their bodies (especially those with short faces) are unable to handle it.

NEVER leave your dog in a car with closed windows - even if you park in the shade. Provide your pooch with lots of shade to retreat to and easy access to cool water. A well-ventilated dog crate or specially designed seat belt for dogs may also work well.

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.

Do not ignore signs of heatstroke in dogs. If your dog is showing symptoms of heatstroke, contact us right away at Miller Clark Animal Hospital, or take your pet to the nearest 24/7 emergency animal clinic for urgent care. 

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