Hot Weather and Your Dog: Do You Know the Signs of Heat Stroke?

By Jessica Driscoll
Certified Veterinary Technician at Pet Poison Helpline®

Dog OutsideWe’re in the dog days of summer! With temperatures often reaching mid 70s to high 90’s we need to take special precautions with our pets. It is best to leave your pet at home during these warmer days as temperatures in cars can quickly rise, even in just a few minutes. It is also best to leave your dogs at home and go on a solo-run when it is warmer. Dogs have insufficient self-cooling mechanisms and are not able to tolerate heat as we as we do (and remember they have to take many more steps than you on a run!) Certain breeds, mainly brachycephalic dogs like Pugs, Bulldogs and Pekingese and dogs with certain underlying medical conditions, are at risk even with normal activities.

Signs of heat stroke can include, but are not limited to, rapid panting, a bright red tongue, red or pale gums, thick and sticky saliva, depression/lethargy, weakness, dizziness, vomiting (sometimes blood can be seen in the vomit), diarrhea, shock, coma and death. Other consequences of hyperthermia can be severe and may include kidney failure, spontaneous bleeding, irregular heartbeat and seizures. These complications can occur hours or even days later. Hyperthermia should always be taken seriously as it can be life-threatening.

What can you do for your dog? If you believe your dog is suffering from heatstroke there are some steps to take even before bringing them to a veterinary facility. First and foremost is to immediately remove your dog from the heat. Wet your dog down with cool or luke-warm/tepid water (do not use water that is too cold as cooling them too rapidly can lead to other life-threatening issues). You could also place your wet dog in front of an electric fan, apply cool packs to the groin area and wipe the paws with cool water. Check your dog’s rectal temperature every 5-10 minutes. Once the temperature has reached 103ºF, STOP the cooling measures. Dry your dog thoroughly and cover him with a dry towel or light blanket so it does not start to lose heat (a concern with cooling measures can be going too far in the other direction causing hypothermia). At this time the dog should be taken directly to a veterinarian for evaluation to determine if any other treatments/supportive care measures are needed.