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Heatstroke In Dogs: How to Prevent It

Ashley Bates

June 9, 2021

We might think dogs are super sturdy—completely capable of withstanding outdoor elements. But that isn’t true of every breed. Even heat-friendly dogs need protection from scorching temperatures, especially if they are elevating their heart rates.

Heatstrokes are an all-too-common health concern for dogs in the summer months. This utterly avoidable condition is something every pet owner should learn about—especially if your dog loves long periods of outdoor play. Let’s understand exactly what it is and how to prevent it entirely.

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What Is Heatstroke in Dogs?

When a dog has an elevated body temperature, known as hyperthermia, it can cause heatstroke. There is only so much heat your dog can handle. If temperatures are extreme for you, imagine being covered in hair—not so cool, right?

Hyperthermia can present in two types:

  • Pyrogenic Hyperthermia — due to fever from infection
  • Non-Polygenic Hyperthermia — due to lack of ventilation in hot temperatures

Heatstroke is a severe problem that happens with canines all across the globe. It is life-threatening and can cause long-term damage to the body, so it’s best to prevent it entirely.

Symptoms of Heatstroke in Dogs

Since heatstroke is so time-sensitive, act immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Panting
  • Dry, tacky gums
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Gum bruising
  • Seizures

What Causes Heatstroke in Dogs?

There are two types of heatstroke: exertional and non-exertional. Exertional is caused by elevating their heart rate through exercise in hot temperatures. Non-exertional is often due to being enclosed in a hot environment without proper ventilation.

There can be many situations where a dog is affected, but the most common cause is hot cars. Even if an owner feels like the vehicle has enough ventilation, a dog can suffer in seconds in summer weather. You are highly advised never to leave your dog in the car, even if it’s just a quick run to the store.

Overexertion, even during play, in toasty temperatures might also cause heat strokes. If your dog’s body is working too hard, they are struggling to breathe, and their heart is racing—this is a recipe for disaster.

labradoodle panting

How Is Heatstroke Diagnosed?

Heatstroke is a life-threatening veterinary emergency, and immediate treatment is paramount. Your vet will check whether the heatstroke is exertional or non-exertional and begin treatment straight away.

Often, heatstroke is visual, but elevated bodily temperatures above 104.9 degrees Fahrenheit are key in diagnosis.

Treatment of Heatstroke in Dogs

The way to combat a heatstroke is to reduce the body temperature gradually but efficiently. As you get your dog to the vet, it’s crucial to bring their temperature down.

Never use cold water, as this could shock their system. Keep interchanging cool, damp cloths, rags, or towels on the heat-prone areas of the body like the stomach, armpits, and feet.

Once you reach your vet, they will likely begin treatment. Depending on what stage your dog’s in, they might take action such as:

  • Intravenous fluid administration
  • Sedation
  • Low-concentration oxygen
  • Thermoregulation
  • Blood work monitoring
  • Antibiotics
  • Bodily monitoring

Each potential treatment depends on the state your dog is in when you bring them.

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Prognosis of Heat Stroke in Dogs

The outcome of a heatstroke dramatically depends on several factors, and every result is different. Dogs can die of heatstroke within 15 minutes. It’s imperative to get them to the very immediately upon displaying symptoms. Time is literally a factor of life and death in this scenario.

Ultimately, effectiveness in treatment depends on the amount of time since hyperthermia began and how long they’ve had an elevated temperature. When treated immediately and effectively, most healthy dogs can recover from the effects.

However, some dogs might experience permanent organ damage. Also, they become more at risk for a future heat stroke. And regretfully, some dogs might pass no matter the treatment to correct the effects of heatstroke.

According to Iowa Veterinary Specialists, death usually happens within 24 hours, with a mortality rate of 50%.

rottweiler panting

Are Some Dogs More Susceptible to Heatstroke?

Brachycephalic breeds are dogs whose skulls are shorter, making a narrow, short airway that is one-third the size of an average dog. These breeds are more sensitive to higher temperatures. Even brief visits outside in hot weather can have dire consequences for these dogs due to breathing issues.

These dogs have what is called brachycephalic airway syndrome, which obstructs breathing. This might cause the dog’s heart to work on overdrive, keeping up with bodily cool-down needs. Even 80 degrees is far too hot for these dogs, so be mindful and carefully time any outside trips.

Some brachycephalic breeds include:

  • English Bulldogs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Rottweilers
  • Boxers
  • Pugs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Shih Tzus
  • Pekingese
  • Lhasa Apsos
  • Brussels Griffons
  • Affenpinschers
  • Chow Chows
  • Mastiffs

While you should exercise caution with all dogs in hot settings, these dogs are especially susceptible.

Other At-Risk Canines

Brachycephalic dogs aren’t the only ones who have to worry. Obese or heavy-coated dogs are also at risk, too. Since heatstroke is caused by the inability to regulate body temperature, these animals will pant heavily—potentially spiking a heat overload.

If you have a chubby buddy or double-coated dog, practice just as many precautions.

french bulldog panting
Image Credit: Lee Waranyu, Shutterstock

Prevention of Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a completely preventable problem for your pals. Here are a few tips to keep your pet safe this summer:

Provide a shaded, ventilated area when outdoors

Never leave your pooch in direct sunlight for any amount of time. Please give them a cool space away from any heat and make sure the airflow is adequate.

Do not over-exercise in high temperatures

Sometimes it’s best to take walks in the early morning or at dusk when everything is cool. Midday exercise in the summer months can be very harmful to your dog.

Offer cool, fresh drinking water at all times

If your dog is outside in the elements, they need a continuous freshwater source. They have to be able to hydrate to regulate their body temperature freely.

chihuahua drinking in the water fountain
Image Credit: muslody.com, Shutterstock

Keep dogs indoors as much as possible

Try to avoid outside stays altogether. If you have a kennel or enclosure to keep your pet in, allow them to stay in the house instead.

Limit outdoor visits

Make potty breaks quick and walks short. Keep all trips out under 5 minutes, if you can.

Never leave your dog in a car

Many regretful owners have trusted that the car isn’t “too hot” that day—only later to lose a loved one. Never leave your dog in the hot car. Only visit dog-friendly stores if they accompany you on outings.

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Final Thoughts

Too many beloved pets are lost annually due to heat-related reasons. Remember to protect your furry friend in the muggy, sizzling summer temperatures. All it takes is one moment too long in a hot car for things to go wrong really fast.

Provide proper shade, fresh water, and adequate ventilation to a dog who will be outside for any length of time in the heat. A few extra measures to help your pooch will save lots of heartache in the long run.

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Featured Image Credit: finchfocus, Shutterstock

Ashley Bates

Ashley Bates is a freelance dog writer and pet enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Her mission is to create awareness, education, and entertainment about pets to prevent homelessness. Her specialties are cats and dogs.

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