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Two hot dogs panting outside in summer

The essentials

  • Heat stroke 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 of heat stress 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?

Heat stroke, also known as heat exhaustion, is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog’s normal cooling mechanisms (mainly panting) can’t keep its body temperature down. If a dog’s body temperature rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the symptoms of heatstroke can quickly set in. 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.

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 them cool down. These temperature-regulating processes don’t work as well, and heat-related illnesses can set in quickly.

Risk factors for heatstroke

  • High temperatures
  • Humidity
  • Dogs with thick, long coats
  • Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds
  • 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 go for walks during mornings or evenings when it’s less hot.

Is heat stroke deadly for dogs?

According to the AVMA, hundreds of dogs die yearly 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 be having a heatstroke acting first and diagnosing later is important. Treat heat exhaustion in your dog as a medical emergency. Symptoms present themselves quickly, and depending on your dog’s risk factors and temperatures, they can progress quickly, too.

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

It’s also important to know that some breeds are more susceptible to heat stroke than others. Brachycephalic dogs (flat-faced dogs) are among these and are twice as likely to suffer from heat stroke. Because these pups already struggle to breathe due to the shape of their snouts, it’s harder for them to regulate their body temperature through panting. Some of the most susceptible brachycephalic breeds include:

Other dogs with thick double coats, such as Chow chows and golden retrievers, have a high risk of heat stroke. Elderly dogs over the age of 12 are also high-risk pups.

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 signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, 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 small amounts of cool water frequently. Be sure your dog doesn’t over-indulge in water, it can cause them to vomit.
  • Cool off your pup – Place a wet towel soaked in cold water over their feet and the pads of their paws. A dog’s paw pads are part of their temperature-regulating mechanisms. You can place a wet towel soaked in cool water on their back.
  • 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.

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

What body temperature is a sign of heatstroke?

You can evaluate the severity of your dog’s condition using a rectal thermometer. 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.

Be very cautious and attentive if your dog’s temperature is between 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. They haven’t quite reached the point of heat stroke or hyperthermia, 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 still administer first aid measures, but also immediately go to the nearest veterinary hospital to prevent lasting damage or death.

Preventing dog heat exhaustion

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 with cool water.
  • Limit outdoor time — It’s much better for your dog to get their zoomies out indoors than suffer 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. Pet parents could also use a kiddie or wading pool to provide a nice cool spa for their pup.
  • 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 heat stroke 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 heat stroke might take weeks to recover from, while a light case that didn’t require emergency veterinary attention might only take a few hours.

When should I take my dog to the vet for heat stroke?

As mentioned, symptoms of severe heat stroke — 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, the best thing to do is to schedule a vet appointment. 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.