Heat Stroke in Dogs: Symptoms + First Aid

Heat stroke in dogs, typically in summer, is an emergency condition that requires veterinary care regardless of the severity of symptoms. 

In this piece, I’ll cover the most important information on heat strokes and First aid steps every dog parent should know. 

What is heat stroke in dogs?

Heat stroke in dogs refers to a life-threatening condition where their body temperature becomes dangerously elevated (above 106°F (41°F). Heat stroke can cause severe damage to a dog’s organs and can even result in death if not treated. It occurs when ambient temperature excised the dog’s ability to cool down. The severity of the heat stroke depends on the duration of exposure. 

A dog’s body temperature ranges between 100.2 to 103.8 degrees Fahrenheit. When the body temperature exceeds 103°F (39.4°C), it is considered abnormal or hyperthermic, and temperatures above 106°F (41°F) without previous signs of illness are often referred to as heat stroke.

Dogs primarily regulate their body temperature through panting

vet explains how to cool dog with heat stress

Types of heat stroke in Dogs

Nonexertional Heatstroke: This type of heat stroke typically occurs due to prolonged exposure to extremely hot conditions, such as heat waves. It is often associated with environmental heat. For example, dogs left in a car.

Exertional heat stroke: It is commonly seen in working dogs. It can develop rapidly, within a few hours, and is often associated with high levels of physical activity and environmental heat

Signs of heat stroke in Dogs

Signs of heat stroke in dogs include: 

  • heavy panting
  • excessive drooling
  • bright red gums
  • high heart rates
  • collapse
  • disorientation 
  • seizures
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • dilated pupils 

What causes heat stroke in dogs

  • Hot and humid environments: Dogs are at risk of heat stroke in hot and humid climates, especially if they don’t have access to shade or sufficient cooling mechanisms.
  • Strenuous exercise in hot weather: Engaging in physical activity in high temperatures can lead to heat stroke in dogs, as their bodies may struggle to dissipate heat effectively.
  • Certain breeds: Brachycephalic breeds, also known as short-muzzle breeds, are particularly susceptible to heat stroke due to their anatomical features that can restrict airflow. Dogs with thick hair coats or overweight dogs may be at a higher risk.
  • Dehydration can contribute to heat stroke in dogs
  • Medical conditions: Hypothyroidism, heart issues, lung issues, etc
  • Age: senior dogs and puppies are more susceptible to heat stroke. Their ability to regulate body temperature is not fully developed or may be compromised due to age-related health conditions, making them more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses like heat stroke.

How do you treat heat stroke at home: First Aid

When providing first aid for a dog with heat stroke, it’s important to act quickly to cool them down and seek veterinary assistance. Here is a step-by-step guide for administering first aid to a dog with heat stroke:

  1. Move the dog to a cool area: If possible, move the dog to a shaded or air-conditioned area away from direct sunlight and heat sources.
  1. Begin cooling the dog: Start the cooling process by wetting the dog with cool, but not ice-cold, water. You can use a hose, wet towels, or water bottles wrapped in towels. Focus on the head, neck, and body areas where blood vessels are closer to the surface like paws and stomach.
  1. Call a veterinarian: Contact a veterinarian immediately to seek professional guidance and let them know about the situation. Each situation and severity of symptoms may differ.
  1. Use a fan or air circulation: Place a fan near the dog or direct air circulation to enhance evaporation and cooling. This can help dissipate heat from the dog’s body. If you are outside ventilate the dog with clothing, books or anything you can find. 
  1. Offer water: Allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water if they are alert and able to swallow. Do not force water into their mouth.
  1. Transport to a veterinary clinic: Even if the dog’s condition appears to improve, it is crucial to take them to a veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and further treatment. Heat stroke can cause internal damage that may not be immediately apparent.

Veterinary assessment of heat stroke in dogs?

When veterinarians treat heat stroke in dogs, their primary goal is to lower the dog’s body temperature and stabilize their condition. 

Vets will check vital signs such as body temperature, heart rate, and respiration. They will also assess the dog’s overall condition and look for any signs of organ dysfunction or complications.

Cooling measures: Veterinarians may use cool water or wet towels fans or air conditioning to enhance evaporation, and in severe cases, utilize cooling blankets or ice packs. The objective is to gradually and safely bring down the body temperature to a normal range.

Intravenous fluids: Veterinarians will administer intravenous fluids to rehydrate the dog, restore electrolyte balance, and support organ function.

Oxygen therapy: Supplemental oxygen helps alleviate respiratory distress if present.

Monitoring and supportive care: Veterinarians closely monitor the dog’s vital signs, including temperature, heart rate, and respiration. They may perform blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry panel, to assess organ function and identify any complications. Supportive care, such as pain management and medications to address specific symptoms or complications, may also be provided.

Treatment of complications: Heat stroke can lead to complications, including kidney injury, abnormal blood clotting, cardiac abnormalities, and neurological issues. Veterinarians will address these complications as necessary, providing appropriate treatments and interventions.

Observation and hospitalization: Dogs with heat stroke require close monitoring and observation. In many cases, veterinarians will recommend hospitalization to continue monitoring the dog’s condition, administer necessary treatments, and ensure a safe and controlled environment for recovery.

What are the three stages of heat exhaustion in dogs?

The three progressive stages of heat exhaustion in dogs can vary slightly depending on the source, but here is a general description of the stages:

Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are the initial stage of heat exhaustion. During this stage, a dog may experience muscle spasms or tremors. Heat cramps are often related to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is the intermediate stage of heat-related illness. Dogs in this stage may exhibit signs such as fatigue, weakness, excessive panting, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, and potentially vomiting and diarrhea. The dog’s body temperature may be elevated, but it is still within a relatively normal range. Prompt intervention at this stage can prevent the progression of heat stroke.

Heat Stroke: Heat stroke is the most severe stage of heat-related illness and is considered a medical emergency. In this stage, the dog’s body temperature rises to a dangerously high level, typically above 104°F (40°C). Dogs may exhibit neurological symptoms such as disorientation, confusion, seizures, collapse, or loss of consciousness. Other signs can include excessive drooling, dark or bright red gums, difficulty breathing, and organ dysfunction. Heat stroke can cause severe damage to multiple organs and can be life-threatening if not treated promptly and appropriately

How long does heat stroke in dogs last?

Heat stroke in dogs is a fast-progressing condition and can result in death in under one hour if not treated. If a dog responds to treatment in 24 hours and there is no damage to organs, they typically recover in 2-3 days. 

Are heat strokes painful for dogs?

Heat strokes can be painful for dogs. When a dog experiences heat stroke, their body temperature rises to dangerous levels, leading to various systemic effects and potential organ damage.

Heat stroke prevention 

Never leave your dog in a parked car: Leaving a dog in a parked car, even for a short time, can quickly lead to heat stroke as temperatures inside a car can rise rapidly. It is best to leave your dog at home or find alternative solutions if you need to run errands.

Limit exercise during hot periods: Avoid exercise or walks during the hottest parts of the day. Instead, schedule activities during cooler times, such as early morning or evening when temperatures are lower. Be mindful of your dog’s energy level and adjust exercise intensity accordingly.

Be cautious of hot surfaces: Keep your dog off hot surfaces like asphalt or concrete, as these can become extremely hot and burn their paws. Opt for grassy or shaded areas for walks and playtime.

Use cooling techniques: Help your dog stay cool by providing a shallow pool or sprinkler for them to play in, using cooling vests or mats designed for dogs, or placing damp towels on their body to help lower their body temperature gradually.

Having a dog cooling mat on hand is a good idea. You can use it in a car, at home, or outdoors. In case of early signs of heat exhaustion, a cooling mat can help speed up recovery. 

dog cooling mat

You can find cooling mats here

Useful products for heat stroke prevention

My dog is a family member and a reason why we travel around the country and explore lakes and mountains in summer. Heat strokes are preventable conditions which is why I always have cooling items on hand.

Here are my choices.

Freezer Toys

freezer toys for heat stroke in dogs prevention

If you are away from home, and cant provide cool water, your dog will be able to better regulate the body temperature by chewing on frozen toys. This is a great option for parks, cars, or any place you can take a break.

You can learn more and browse toys here.

Portable fans

portable fan

I’m not particularly worried about fans if the car is near, however, a portable fan is a must when going for walks in the mountains. Even early mornings can be extremely hot in July and August.

you can find these fans here.

Dog water bottle

dog water bottle

You can find water bottles here.

Dog cooling bandana

dog cooling bandana

Bandanas have a cooling effect for a couple of hours making them ideal for walks and travel.

You can find them here.

Cooling towels

cooling towels

These towels should be soaked in cold water and you can use them to cover your dog while resting or during the walk. They are a great option for you as well 🙂

You can find them here.