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📷 by Brett Jordan

The essentials

Heatstroke is serious If you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke, you need to act immediately. 

Hot summers can be deadly Dogs can start feeling symptoms within minutes, and unfortunate deaths happen each year. 

Be proactive Take preventative measures to help your dog avoid heat exhaustion. Keep your pet inside during the hottest parts of the day, give them plenty of water, and never leave them in the car.

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke, also known as heat exhaustion, is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog’s normal cooling mechanisms (mainly panting) aren’t able to keep its body temperature down. If a dog’s body temperature rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the symptoms of heatstroke can quickly set it. Heatstroke can permanently damage a dog’s organs and require lifelong treatment if a dog isn’t cooled down right away.

Dog owners need to be able to recognize this condition immediately to save their dog’s life — heatstroke can be fatal, and it only takes minutes for the situation to take a turn for the worse.

Signs of heatstroke in dogs

The warning signs and symptoms of heatstroke are easy to recognize. These include:

  • Vomiting
  • Excessive panting or difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness or coma
  • Uncoordinated movements or collapse
  • Excessive drooling (hypersalivation)
  • Diarrhea
  • Glazed eyes
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Bright red, gray, or blush-colored gums
  • Seizures or muscle tremors
  • Dry noses or tongues

None of these signs and symptoms should be taken lightly. If it’s a hot day, heat exhaustion can set in quickly. If you notice any of these signs, act quickly to help your dog cool down. 

🚨 If your dog seems severely ill and is vomiting, seizing, or losing consciousness, take them to the nearest vet immediately.

What to do if your dog is overheated

If your dog has symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke, you need to take the following actions:

Get them inside — First, remove your dog from the hot environment immediately. 

Help them hydrate — Give your pup water and place a wet towel soaked in cold water on their back. 

⚠️ Don’t give them freezing water or ice cubes — cooling too quickly can be just as dangerous as heat exhaustion itself.

Take your dog’s temperature — Use a rectal thermometer to get their internal temperature. If your dog’s temperature exceeds 103 degrees Fahrenheit after trying to cool them, or their symptoms don’t start improving immediately, take them to the veterinarian.

What body temperature is a sign of heatstroke?

Using a rectal thermometer, you can evaluate the severity of your dog’s condition. If your dog’s body temperature is under 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, get your pup some water and keep them inside in a cool area. The normal temperature range for a dog is 99.5-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

If your dog’s temperature is between 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, be very cautious and attentive. They haven’t quite reached the point of heatstroke, but they’re still in danger of serious health issues. Get them cooled down immediately.

If their temperature is above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you should take your dog to the nearest vet to prevent lasting damage or death.

What causes heatstroke in dogs?

Dogs regulate their body temperature by breathing and panting. They don’t have sweat glands like humans do. When a dog pants, the airflow over their tongue helps cool them down. At high temperatures, these temperature-regulating processes don’t work as well, and heat exhaustion can set in quickly.

Risk factors for heatstroke

  • High temperatures
  • Humidity
  • Dogs with thick, long coats
  • Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like pugs, American bulldogs, or golden retrievers
  • Puppies
  • Obesity
  • Over-exercise 
  • Confined, hot spaces (specifically cars or dog houses)

👉 On hot or humid days, limit your dog’s outdoor activities. In the summer, only walk them during the morning or evening hours when it’s less hot.

Is heatstroke deadly for dogs?

According to the AVMA, hundreds of dogs die each year from heat exhaustion. Many of these incidents go unreported, so the actual number is hard to estimate. If not treated immediately, heatstroke can be fatal for dogs just the same as humans.

If you think your dog may have heatstroke, it’s important to act first and diagnose later. Symptoms present themselves quickly, and depending on your dog’s risk factors and the weather they’re exposed to, they can progress quickly, too.

🚨 Never leave your dog alone in the car. In the summertime, internal car temperatures can reach up to 130-172 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tips to help pups beat the heat

The best way to make sure this never happens to your dog is to keep them safe during warm and hot weather.

Give them water It’s important to keep your pup hydrated on warm and hot days.

Limit outdoor time It’s much better for your dog to get their zoomies out indoors than suffering outside. If the outdoor temperature rises above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, limit your dog’s backyard time to a stretch of no more than 30 minutes.

Plan outdoor time wisely Keep your dog indoors during the hottest part of the day. Let them enjoy playing or walking outside in the early morning or evening when the sun isn’t beating down.

Never leave them in unventilated spaces Cars are the most obvious, but dog houses, sheds, and enclosed porches that lack ventilation get extremely hot in summer. Always keep your dog somewhere where they’ll get proper airflow.

Provide shade and water outside — If your dog is outside, make sure they have plenty of shade. Do your best to create shady spots for them if your yard lacks trees or natural shade.

Switch up exercise in the summer — Your dog’s normal exercise and walking routines are going to be more demanding in the summer heat. Consider walking them earlier in the day and making the walks shorter. Also, your dog may enjoy a different form of exercise, such as swimming, which will help them keep cool (here are a few pool safety tips for pups to keep in mind).

Frequently asked questions

Can I break a car window to save a dog?

Breaking the window of a car containing a dog on a hot day certainly seems like a heroic thing to do. However, you run the risk of being liable for both the damage to the car and potentially injuring the animal. 

If you see a dog in a hot car and you’re worried that they may be in danger, call 911. The dispatcher will advise you to wait for the police to arrive, or they may advise you to break the glass to save the dog. 

How long does heatstroke last in dogs?

Each case of heatstroke is different. Some dogs will take longer to recover than others, depending on the severity of their condition. Severe cases of heatstroke might take weeks to recover from, while a light case that didn’t require veterinary attention might only take a few hours.

When should I take my dog to the vet for heatstroke?

As mentioned, symptoms of severe heatstroke — vomiting, seizing, and loss of consciousness — require immediate intervention from a vet. Heatstroke complications can damage internal organs, and this damage won’t go away overnight. Your dog might need ongoing treatment, even if they didn’t need emergency treatment. 

If you think your dog may have experienced heat exhaustion but recovered at home, you should still schedule an appointment with your vet. They’ll be able to evaluate your pup and advise you on how to help them recover at home, and determine if ongoing treatment is needed.