Heatstroke In Dogs Is Deadly And Easy To Prevent, Here's How

by Becky Bracken
Originally Published: 
heatstroke in dogs

When the temperatures heat up, we humans just sweat to cool down. Dogs, besides being covered in a fur coat all the time, aren’t so good at regulating their body temperature, which is why heatstroke in dogs is prevalent, deadly, and really easy to prevent.

Unlike those of us with pits bathed in flop sweat for three-quarters of our lives, dogs only have a few sweat glands on their paws and snouts and they don’t work very well. The rest of the work has to be done with panting. When it gets too hot for a dog to cool itself sufficiently by panting, hyperthermia sets in. The high-end of the normal range for a dog is 102.5-degrees, so anytime their bodies get hotter than that, they’re in danger.

Heatstroke in dogs is caused by one of two things, according to the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation: either by being exposed to excessive heat, like in a hot car or locked outside in the sun; or overexertion, which can happen regardless of the temperature outside. For example, Iditarod sled dogs can suffer from exertion-based hyperthermia, the AKC warns on their site.

Heatstroke vs. Heat Exhaustion in Dogs

As the dog’s temperature climbs, there is a progression of hyperthermia symptoms. Here’s how to tell the difference between the two:

  • Heat stress: Dogs experiencing heat stress will pant excessively, with their tongue lolled out and flat. The AKC adds, they will pull back their cheeks too, so you can see every one of their teeth and gums.
  • Heat exhaustion: Unless treated, the next step after heat stress is heat exhaustion. Dogs experiencing this will pant uncontrollably, possibly vomit, show symptoms of diarrhea, possibly stumble, and pass out.
  • Heatstroke: Heatstroke in dogs is the deadliest form of hyperthermia. A dog can have seizures and eventually fall into a coma and die.

How to Treat Heatstroke in Dogs

Heatstroke in dogs can be lethal if they don’t get immediate treatment. Veterinarian Krista Williams advises cooling them down and seeking medical attention immediately. “Hyperthermia is an immediate medical emergency,” Williams stressed. “Safe, controlled reduction of body temperature is a priority. Cool water (not cold) may be poured over the head, stomach, armpits, and feet, or cool cloths may be applied to these areas. If using cool wet cloths, these should be continually replaced, or they will start to retain heat. Ensure a continuous flow of air across the dog to help increase evaporative heat loss until treatment is received at your veterinary hospital.”

Williams said that the dog’s prognosis following heatstroke depends on a number of factors, including how long they were exposed, how hot it got, and how old the pet is.

“If the body temperature did not become extremely high, most healthy pets will recover quickly if they are treated immediately,” Williams added. “Some pets may experience permanent organ damage or may die at a later date from complications that developed secondarily to the hyperthermia.”

However, dogs who recover from heatstroke will always be at a greater risk for future heatstroke, Williams cautioned, “due to damage to the thermoregulatory center.”

Heatstroke in Cats

While canines aren’t the only fur babies susceptible to heatstroke, it’s not as common in cats. That said, much like dogs, cats have just a few sweat glands on their paws and nose. Similar to heatstroke in dogs, heatstroke in cats is most often caused by being left in a hot car or being trapped outside in the sun without water. Preventative Vet added a common cause of heatstroke in cats is getting trapped in a clothes dryer. “This is not an infrequent occurrence,” Preventative Pet said.

Heatstroke in cats is most dangerous to felines who are older, fatter (no shame!), if they are a breed with a flat face, like Persians, or cats with underlying medical conditions. Cats experiencing heatstroke will pant excessively, appear disoriented, lethargic, vomit and/or start drooling thick saliva.

How to Treat Heat Stroke in Cats

Get the cat out of the hot environment and place them on a wet towel or blanket. Offer them plenty of water, or even add chicken broth or tuna to the water to encourage them to drink at a slow, steady pace. You can also spray them with cool — not cold — water and blow a fan on them to encourage evaporation.

Preventative Vet also advises noting the time, which can be helpful to the veterinarian, and stop cooling the cat once their rectal temperature reaches 103.5 degrees. Once they’ve cooled, dry the cat with a towel and get to the vet, stat.

Remember summer months can be hard on dogs and cats. Besides heat stroke, make sure not to walk them on hot sidewalks or asphalt, which can burn their paw pads. To test if it’s too hot, touch your hand to the pavement and see if it burns you. If you wouldn’t want to walk on the surface in bare feet, they shouldn’t either. And always bring along plenty of water.

They would do it for you.

Common Questions About Heatstroke in Dogs

How long should a dog be outside in the heat?

Like humans, dogs can’t spend too much time in the sun. So to avoid heatstroke, keep the fun in the sun limited. If the temperature outside is above 90, let your dog romp around for about 15 minutes and then bring them indoors. Try to do your walks in the early mornings or evenings when it’s cooler. Especially if it’s humid outside, limit their outside activity, but keep in mind, each breed has a different tolerance to heat. If you’re ever in doubt, take your pup’s temperature. It should never be more than 104 degrees.

Can the heat affect my dog’s bowels?

Yes, heat exhaustion can impact your dog’s gastric system, leading to diarrhea and super-soft stool. Sometimes, if complications are severe, their stool can even have spots of blood in it. If this happens, take them to the vet. To help with their bowel movements, you can also give your pup rice water or pumpkin.

How long does heatstroke last in dogs?

Once a dog has a heat stroke, the symptoms don’t last very long, but it could take a while for your pup to recover. Depending on the dog and how severe the stroke is, it can take anywhere between a few days or weeks for your dog to return to its normal self.

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