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Health & Wellness

How to spot and prevent heatstroke in dogs

Here’s how to ensure your pup is safe and healthy this summer!

While the allure of sunshine-filled days at the dog park with your best friend may sound promising, the extreme summer heat may also bring about some negative consequences for your beloved pup. It’s important for all pet parents to be able to recognize the signs of heatstroke in dogs and learn how to prevent heatstroke in the first place. 

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke is characterized by high body temperature, and in dogs, temperatures around 105.8°F are cause for concern. They can be caused by the body’s inability to dissipate heat effectively. According to Dr. Sarah Drury, DVM, a veterinarian with Austin Pets Alive!, there are two forms of heatstroke: nonexertional and exertional. Nonexertional heatstroke, also called “classic heatstroke,” results from exposure to a hot or humid environment while exertional heatstroke results from strenuous exercise. 

However, Dr. Drury says it’s common for both to occur at the same time. Heatstroke often happens while a dog is strenuously exercising in hot weather. That being said, your pup can also get heatstroke in cooler weather if they may have overdone it while exercising.

Signs of heatstroke in dogs

If you think your dog may have heatstroke, look out for strange behavior. Some warning signs include sudden collapsing, an inability to walk or a reluctance to get up. If your dog is laying on their side and is unable to sit up, this too can point to a heatstroke along with a rapid or elevated heart rate, the inability to catch their breath or very heavy and rapid breathing. 

Pet parents should also be on the lookout for telltale signs, such as a purple, blue or brown tongue and/or mucous membranes in the mouth. If your dog seems to be in a daze, is experiencing dizziness or is unable to recognize familiar people or pets they live with, heatstroke might be the cause. 

Other warnings include signs of spontaneous bleeding. Dr. Drury recommends looking out for blood spots on gums or the belly, bloody diarrhea and bloody vomiting, along with evidence of dehydration like sticky mucous membranes. Your dog might also attempt to drink tons of water rapidly as they overheat.

The long-term effects after a dog has experienced a heatstroke can be severe and life-threatening. Heatstrokes can cause kidney disease, skin necrosis, a disruption in blood flow and  brain damage, so it’s important to learn the signs and contact your veterinarian right away if you see any heatstroke symptoms.  

Heat exhaustion in dogs

Before your dog reaches the critical stages of a heatstroke, they’ll also exhibit signs of heat exhaustion. While neither scenario is ideal, heat exhaustion is less severe and occurs before heatstroke sets in. 

“Heat exhaustion can cause tiredness, sluggishness and heavy panting, but your dog should still have a normal body temperature,” Dr. Drury says. 

It’s important to note that heat exhaustion should be taken very seriously. You should monitor your dog closely as they cool down, and contact a vet right away if you see the symptoms. 

“As heat exhaustion continues, your dog will eventually exceed the ability to regulate their own body temperature despite home remedies,” Dr. Drury says. That means your dog may soon require emergency care.

How to prevent heatstroke in dogs

While heat exhaustion and heatstroke in dogs should be taken seriously, some relief can be found in the fact that both conditions are completely preventable. For starters, pet parents should never leave pets in a confined space without proper air conditioning

You should also keep a watchful eye out for your pets on warmer days, especially if your dog is at higher risk of heatstroke due to their breed or a recent move to a warmer climate. Make sure to keep your pet hydrated at all times, and avoid overly strenuous exercise, especially on hot days. 

There's no universally accepted answer for how long a dog can be left outside, as factors such as their access to shade, water and their acclimation to the climate all play into a dog’s ability to regulate their temperature. Pet parents should continually check in on their pups to ensure they’re hydrated and comfortable, especially on warmer days.

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Cooling down an overheated dog

When a dog is experiencing heatstroke or heat exhaustion, taking quick action gives them the best chance of fully recovering. 

“It's very important to start cooling therapy right away, even while traveling to the hospital,” Dr. Drury says. She recommends cooling your pup’s body temperature by misting or bathing the dog with cool-or room-temperature water. Just be sure to never use ice cold water if you think your pup is overheating since it could cause your pet to go into shock or even cause hypothermia. 

Placing your pup in front of a fan is strongly recommended. Dr. Drury also suggests soaking a towel in cool or room temperature water and placing it on your dog’s body. If heatstroke has set in and you must take your dog to emergency care, Dr. Drury says your dog should be driven to the hospital with the air conditioner on and/or with the windows rolled down.

While the beginning stages of heat exhaustion can be treated at home under careful supervision (it’s a good idea to call your vet if you’re concerned about your dog’s health), we always recommend taking your pet to the vet when they’re showcasing signs of severe distress or anguish. Any pet exhibiting any sign of heatstroke should immediately be taken to the emergency clinic as this is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate care. 

“If you’re ever concerned your dog is suffering from heatstroke it's important to get them to a veterinary clinic right away. Call the clinic beforehand to alert them of your emergency so they’re able to get your dog treated as soon as possible on arrival,” Dr. Drury says. 

Be sure to also offer your dog cool-to room-temperature water to drink — but don’t force them to drink if they don’t want it. Dr. Drury advises against leaving your dog unattended until you're certain they have recovered from the event. If your dog continues to show signs of heat exhaustion even after at-home cooling therapy, they’re at risk of a heatstroke and should immediately be taken to emergency care. 

Dog breeds that overheat easily

Sadly, some dogs are more sensitive to heat than others and, as a result, are at a much higher risk of heatstroke. Certain characteristics, like dogs with flat faces (sometimes called brachycephalic breeds) such as pugs, chow chows and bulldogs, are particularly predisposed to heatstroke due to their natural difficulty breathing. 

Dogs with thick coats, such as golden retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and arctic breeds, like Huskies and Akitas, are at a higher risk of suffering from heatstroke as well.

While these dog breeds are especially sensitive, it’s vital to remember that all dogs can quickly succumb to heat exhaustion and heatstroke depending on the environment. Dogs should never be left confined in an enclosed space with poor ventilation and without temperature regulation – this includes cars, attics and garages. Even if your dog has access to water, these spaces can quickly soar to extreme temperatures. 

Heatstroke is scary, but responsible pet parents can prevent or remove much of the risk by taking proper precautions. It’ll ensure not only your peace of mind, but it’ll also help keep your pet happy and healthy all year round.  

The Dig, Fetch by The Dodo’s expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too. Fetch provides the most comprehensive pet insurance and is the only provider recommended by the #1 animal brand in the world, The Dodo.

Photo by Valeria Dubych on Unsplash

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