What You Need to Know About Heatstroke in Dogs

Hot dogHeatstroke in dogs is a scary concept: if it isn’t addressed right away, it can kill an animal in a matter of minutes. Being aware of the symptoms of this condition and why it happens in the first place will help you to know how to look out for it. Here’s what you need to know about heatstroke in dogs:

What is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke is a form of hyperthermia, or elevated body temperature. It occurs, in dogs and other animals, when the usual mechanisms the body uses to keep itself at a safe temperature fail. In other words, the body is overwhelmed.

Dogs are more easily overwhelmed by the heat, whether environmental or self-generated through excessive exercise, than humans. Therefore, they are more likely to get heatstroke because their natural cooling systems are not as effective.

You probably know that dogs pant to cool themselves down. Besides environmental heat and humidity, types of upper airway disease constitute a risk factor for heatstroke as do youth and old age. Dehydration, a thick coat, and obesity are a few other risk factors for heatstroke. As the summer months approach, it’s a good idea to ask your vet if your pup is especially at risk for heatstroke or another type of hyperthermia for any reason.

What are the Symptoms of Heatstroke in Dogs?

Prompt attention and veterinary care will help a dog survive heatstroke. But, in order to help your dog, you need to know the signs that they are suffering. Here are some signs that your dog’s body is failing to regulate its own temperature and is turning into heatstroke:

1. Extreme Thirst

Your dog is extremely thirsty. Extreme thirst is one of the first signs of heatstroke in dogs. If your dog is beginning to experience heat exhaustion, they will begin to drink and will drink abundantly without showing signs of stopping.

2. Rapid or Labored Panting

Panting is a common dog behavior and is how dogs control their body temperature. But, when a dog is panting rapidly, it means that they are having a hard time regulating their body temperature. If your dog appears short of breath, they need help immediately.

3. Bright Red Tongue and Pale Gums

A drastic change in the appearance of the tongue and gums is another symptom of heatstroke in dogs. Usually, this results in your dog’s tongue becoming bright red. Their gums may also be red. Or, their gums could appear dull or pale. Sometimes, you may also see this accompanied by thick and sticky saliva.

4. Lethargy and Disorientation

As your dog’s temperature rises, they may start showing signs of lethargy, weakness, and even depression. They may be moving slower or not moving around at all. They may also start showing signs of disorientation or dizziness. If your dog appears confused or absentminded in the heat, they may be experiencing symptoms of heatstroke.

5. Vomiting and Diarrhea

A dog experiencing diarrhea in the heat may also be a symptom of heatstroke. Vomiting, especially when there is blood, is a dire sign of heatstroke. It shows that the condition is affecting a dog’s vital organs and they need help immediately.

6. Shock and Coma

As heat exhaustion continues and moves into full-blown heatstroke, your dog’s body may go into shock and they may slip into a coma as their body continues to shut down. This is why it is so important to monitor your dog in the heat and get help as soon as they start showing signs of heatstroke. You want to do everything you can to avoid it getting to this point.

How Can You Prevent Heatstroke in Dogs?

In hot weather or if your dog is naturally predisposed to hyperthermia, there are many things you can do to keep heatstroke at bay and keep your dog cool. Here’s how to prevent heatstroke in dogs:

1. Stay in the Shade

If the weather is hot when you go outsides, stay in the shade with your dog. This is especially important if your dog has risk factors like heart disease, advanced age, breathing problems, etc. Although you want your dog to have fun, you also have to protect them.

2. Stick to Mornings and Evenings

As the weather gets hotter, stick to going out in the mornings and evenings. This helps keep your outside time relegated to when the temperature is lower and keeps you and your dog inside with the air conditioning when temperatures peak.

3. Keep Activity Slow and to a Minimum

If your dog has risk factors for heatstroke, be aware that they can’t keep up with other dogs and strenuous activity can be dangerous. Even for a dog without risk factors, they can’t keep up with your level of activity in hot weather because their built-in cooling system is not as efficient as yours. In other words, don’t take your dog jogging with you at the height of summer.

4. Keep Plenty of Water Handy

Always make sure your pup has access to water, in any kind of weather. Having water on hand during warmer weather is especially important.

5. Don’t Use a Muzzle

With proper training and socialization, there should be no reason to use a muzzle in the first place. But, we don’t live in a perfect world and, for some dogs, a muzzle is needed, even if it’s just temporary as a training tool.

However, you do not want to put a muzzle or any other restriction around your dog’s mouth during hot weather. Breathing and panting freely is an essential part of the canine cooling system. So, if you restrict a dog’s airway in any way, you are putting them at risk for heatstroke.

6. Do Not Leave Your Dog in the Car

This should go without saying, but, as is shown by news stories every summer, it needs to be said – do not leave your dog in the car! It doesn’t matter if you’re “running into the store” for five minutes or “making a quick stop”. If you can’t leave the car on with the air conditioning running, you can’t leave your dog in the car. It’s too hot, even if you crack the windows, and it leaves your dog at high-risk for heatstroke and death.

Heatstroke is a very scary and very dangerous thing for your dog to go through. The best thing you can do is to take steps to prevent it from happening in the first place and to know the symptoms of heatstroke in dogs, so you can get them the help they need.

If you catch it quickly in the beginning stages, you can take steps to cool your dog down before it progresses further. If your dog shows more serious heatstroke symptoms, you’ll want to get to the vet immediately.