Heatstroke In Dogs
An over-heated dog is in serious danger, so know the risks
Getting hot under the collar
Heatstroke, or heat exhaustion, occurs when your pet’s body temperature rises above its natural level and cannot be brought back down (also called ‘hyperthermia’). Heatstroke is not associated with fever or inflammation – heat stroke occurs when your pet’s body cannot tolerate the external heat conditions, or get rid of excess heat fast enough, and can occur in completely healthy animals.
If your pet’s temperature rises high enough, the heat starts to damage the organs and tissues, causing severe damage. Worryingly, heatstroke can come on very rapidly – pets can go from looking fine to being collapsed in a matter of minutes. Of all of our pets, dogs are most susceptible to heatstroke, but all pets can suffer if they are in a situation where they cannot cool down.
Our pets are not very good at getting rid of heat – sadly a fur coat means sweating from the body isn’t an option. While the footpads do have some sweat glands, for dogs most heat is dispersed through panting.
Being in an environment that is too hot or humid can lead to heatstroke, especially if your dog is running or playing. This can include, but is not limited to, a hot day, being enclosed in a warm room (conservatories especially can become lethally hot very rapidly, even on cool but sunny days), and being left in the car.
Some pets are more at risk from heatstroke as they find it harder to get rid of excessive heat. These include pets who:
- Suffer from obesity
- Have an underlying heart or lung disease
- Have a short, flat nose (brachycephaly)
- Have a thick hair coat
Heatstroke can come on rapidly, so prevention is always better than cure. Signs your dog might be becoming overheated include:
- Increased panting
- Excessive drooling/salivation
- Darker urine than normal or smaller volume
- Abnormal, anxious behaviour
More serious signs include:
- Not urinating or very concentrated urine
- Dark red or purple gums
- Seizures (fits)
- ;Drunk or wobbliness
- Muscle tremors
- Rapid or irregular heart rate
- Blood in vomit or stools
- Sudden death
Your pet may show a range of these signs, and an absence of these doesn’t mean your dog hasn’t got heatstroke.
Sadly, many of the more severe signs are associated with organ damage, especially to the liver and kidney.
If you see any signs of overheating – call your vet immediately.
If you suspect your pet is getting too hot, don’t wait. Always act immediately, as heatstroke can rapidly become an emergency.
Take your pet somewhere cooler, and if possible shower them in cool water. Cool not cold is the key here, so don’t use iced water – water that is too cold will actually cause the blood vessels at the skin surface to tighten, making it harder for heat to leave the body. Cool water will help disperse heat fastest, and pets can:
- Be sprayed with water
Pour cool (not cold) water onto your pet. You can also apply cool wet towels, but don’t leave these on for more than a few minutes at a time as they will quickly dry.
- Have a fan on them
- Be offered cool water to drink (but do not force them to drink anything).
If your dog has developed heatstroke, you should always take them to your nearest vet for help, even if the signs are mild. Your vet can assess for any complications, help monitor temperature (don’t forget, pets can get too cold too, so it is important to make sure you don’t over-chill your pet!), and put in place any supportive care.
Pets with mild heatstroke often still need to stay at the vets for monitoring, or if more serious damage has been done, may require more intensive hospitalisation for several days.
There are several ways you can reduce the risk of your dog developing heatstroke:
- In hot weather, only exercise your dog in the morning and evening when it is cooler
- Keep your dog a healthy weight
- NEVER leave your dog in a parked car, even if it is only for a few minutes
- Always have water accessible for your pet
- Know the signs of overheating, and stop and cool your dog safely if you see any worrying changes
- Be aware of the temperature and weather forecast to plan your dog's routine
- Don't leave your dog in places that might overheat, even on a cool day. This includes conservatories, caravans, garages and sunny rooms
- Don't assume your dog will stop exercising if they are too hot! Many dogs will carry on despite feeling unwell, so you need to be in control of stopping play if it gets too warm.
- Put sunblock on any exposed skin thin areas like muzzles and ear-tips can be especially sensitive
- Clip thick or long fur in the warmer months