Heatstroke in dogs


Summer is here (so they say) and the weather is definitely starting to warm up (hooray!). Most of us will be outside in the hot weather, soaking up the sun or enjoying walks and trips with the family and our dogs. However, the heat can pose serious risks to your dog’s health if precautions are not taken to keep them cool. Heat stroke is a serious and life threatening condition that can affect dogs of any age, breed and fitness level. Fortunately, heatstroke is usually preventable if you take precautions in the warm weather.

How dogs get heatstroke

The normal body temperature of a dog is approximately 38.5ºC. (101.3ºF)

In warm weather dogs get rid of excess heat by panting, which exchanges the warmer air in the body for the cooler air from the environment. (Dogs don’t sweat like humans and although they can release some moisture through the pads in their feet and their nose, it is not enough to cool them down). When the environmental temperature reaches 29ºC or higher it becomes more and more difficult for the dog to cool down. Exercising during hot weather, even just a short walk, can increase panting and they will start to overheat. Once a dog’s temperature rises above 41ºC heatstroke is the result and damage to the body’s cellular system, nervous system and organs such as the brain, heart and liver may become irreversible .

Common causes of heatstroke

  • Being left in a vehicle on a warm day– Even if the day is overcast or you park in the shade, it can take as little as 10 minutes for the temperature in a vehicle to reach 39ºC, in 30 to 60 minutes it can reach 47ºC!
  • Being left in a conservatory or caravan (this will have the same effect as being left in a vehicle)
  • Being confined to an area with no shade and/or water in hot weather
  • Excessive exercise in hot weather
  • Overweight and short nosed dog breeds are more susceptible to heatstroke because they cannot cool down as effectively.

Heat Stroke Temperature Chart Castle Vets

Common Signs Of Heatstroke

  • Rapid or frantic panting
  • Panting with the tongue as extended as possible
  • Excessive thirst
  • Anxious behaviour
  • Rapid heart/pulse rate
  • Thick saliva
  • Very red (dark) gums
  • Dry or sticky gums
  • Dizziness and/or disorientation
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Collapse
  • Convulsions
Normal panting vs heatstroke

The dog on the left is panting normally and is nice and relaxed. The dog on the right is becoming too warm; his mouth is wide, his tongue is extended and he is starting to salivate. His eyes and face are a little pinched and his ears are flat. In a dog with heat stroke these features would be much more exaggerated, but hopefully this picture will give you a good idea of what to look out for.

What you can do to prevent heatstroke

  • NEVER leave your dog alone in the car on a warm day. Temperatures can soar in just a few minutes (after 5 minutes of the air conditioning being turned off, the inside temperature of the car will match the environmental temperature and start getting warmer). Open windows, parking in the shade or using sun shields will not keep your car cool enough. (plus your dog could be stolen!)
  • If you have to take your dog on a car journey, make sure to keep them cool and have plenty of fresh water available at all times.
  • Don’t take your dog out in the middle of the day when it is hottest, try to exercise your dog early morning and late evening when it is cooler.
  • Don’t allow your dog to over exert itself in the warm weather and try to keep energetic activities to a minimum during the hottest parts of the day.
  • If your dog likes to lie out in the garden, make sure you provide shade, keep the water bowl full and supervise at all times so you can see if they are getting to hot.
  • Regular grooming to remove excessive hair and clipping of longer coated breeds will help keep them cool.
  • If your dog enjoys water you could play with the sprinkler, hose , or even fill the paddling pool to keep him or her cool. For those that aren’t keen on water you could soak a bath towel in cold water and put this on the ground for them to lie on.
  • Take water and a bowl with you for your dog if you are going to be out for longer than 30 minutes in hot weather.
  • Keep a very close eye on your dog if it is a short nosed breed (Boxer, Pug, Shih Tzu, Bulldog etc), overweight or suffers with a heart condition as these dogs are more likely to overheat in warm weather.
  • Keep your dog cool

What to do if your dog shows symptoms of heatstroke

  1. Move him or her to a cool area (preferably with air conditioning or a fan to cool them off)heat-stroke
  2. Assess your dog’s condition:

Can he/she stand? Is he/she panting normally?
If yes, keep inside and offer water little and often and call the veterinary practice for advice.

If your dog is showing any of the following signs

  • panting excessively?300_651942
  • Staggering/collapsing when trying to move?
  • Have dark red gums?
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea?
  • Have a rapid heart/pulse rate?
  • Unable to stand up?
  • Disorientated or out of sorts?
  • Unresponsive to voice, touch or sight?
  • Having convulsions?
  • Completely collapsed or unconscious?

Call the vet immediately and get your dog to the veterinary practice as quickly as possible. You can begin the cooling process by soaking his/her body with cool (not cold) water. Wet towels that have been soaked in water are great for this.

If you are concerned that your dog may have heatstroke and want advice please contact Castle Vets on 0118 9574488 or Vets Now on 0118 959 4007 if it is an emergency outside our normal working hours.

rspca dogs in cars


One thought on “Heatstroke in dogs

  1. Pingback: Warm Weather Pet Care | Castle Vets Reading

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