Dogs and Heatstroke

Heatstroke in Dogs

Your dog’s fur may be a perfect winter coat, but that changes in the summer. Dogs eliminate body heat by panting, but a dog left outside for too long in the summer, or trapped in a hot car, can easily develop heatstroke when panting isn’t enough and his body temperature rises. Even a dog lying in the shade on a hot and humid summer day can develop heatstroke. And it can be fatal.

If your dog is panting excessively, or showing signs of discomfort, he may well be overheating. Pay attention to the temperature: if you are uncomfortably warm, he is going to feel hotter. Bring him inside. And never, ever leave a dog locked in the car on a hot day…even for a short while.

How to Treat Heatstroke at Home

Once the dog is in a cooler environment, do the following:

  • Put the dog in a stoppered bathtub and run a cool (not cold) shower over the pet. Soak the whole body, especially the back of the neck and back of the head…but if the dog is unconscious,  be careful not to let water enter the nose or mouth, as this can cause aspiration pneumonia.
  • Let the water fill the tub as you, while you keep the dog’s head elevated.
  • If for some reason you can’t get the dog into a tub, use a garden house to cool him down, or place him in a shallow pool of cool water.
  • You can also apply a cold pack to the dog’s head to help drop his body temperature…a bag of frozen vegetables will always work.
  •  A vigorous leg massage will help the dog’s circulation, reducing the risk of shock.
  • When the dog shows thirst, let him have as much cool or cold water as desired. You can add a pinch of salt to his water bow to help replace some of the minerals he lost while panting so heavily.

Even if the dog is conscious or appears to be recovering well, you will need to keep on the alert for signs of shock. A dog’s temperature should be below 103 degrees. Check this every five minutes while you water-cool the dog, until his temperature falls to 102 or lower. If it drops a little more, that’s okay: down to 100 degrees is low, but less dangerous than too high.

If the dog continues to appear to be in shock, you will need to take the pet to the vet immediately.

Do I Really Need the Vet?

Even if your dog appears normal, he really does need to have the vet examine him: Heatstroke can cause unseen problems like brain swelling, blood clots and kidney failure. Take him in an air conditioned car with open windows, to increase the cool air flow.

Your dog is going to need lost fluids and minerals replaced as soon as possible, so the vet will start intravenous therapy. The dog will also be monitored for any other secondary symptoms.

Dogs Most at Risk

If your dog has thick fur, a short nose, or is obese, he is at greater risk of heatstroke. And dogs that love to play when outside, running and exercising, need to watched most carefully on hot days. Make sure all dogs have access to fresh cool water when outdoors in warmer weather.