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Heatstroke in Dogs: Causes and What to Do

Whether you live in a warm climate or enjoy a few months of summer weather each year, knowing how to spot heatstroke in dogs is something every pet parent should know. Today our Fort Pierce vets share the symptoms of this potentially deadly condition, and what you should do if you think your dog has heatstroke. 

What is heatstroke in dogs?

Heatstroke (also known as prostration or hyperthermia) is an increase in core body temperature caused by external or environmental conditions. Your dog's normal body temperature should be about 99-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If your dog's body temperature rises above 105F, emergency veterinary care is required quickly. Heatstroke is an extremely serious condition that can be fatal.

Why do dogs get heatstroke?

Unlike humans, dogs aren't able to sweat when they get hot. Sweat helps to cool our bodies, but dogs achieve this by panting. If panting isn't sufficient to cool themselves down, their body temperature may continue to rise, resulting in heatstroke. 

Any breed or size of dog can suffer from heatstroke but dogs with thick fur, short noses, or those suffering from underlying medical conditions tend to be more susceptible to this condition.

Some common causes of heatstroke in dogs include:

  • Leaving a dog in a car on a hot or sunny day
  • Inadequate water provided for dog
  • Lack of sufficient shade in an outdoor play area

How can I tell if my dog has heatstroke?

Although the most obvious sign of heatstroke in dogs is excessive panting, it isn't the only symptom of heatstroke in dogs. Other symptoms of heatstroke that pet parents should be aware of include:

  • Drooling
  • Reddened gums
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of alertness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Collapse

What should I do if I think my dog has heatstroke?

Symptoms of heatstroke should always be considered an emergency! Heatstroke is a serious condition and can lead to life-threatening issues such as abnormal blood clotting, swelling of the brain, kidney failure, and intestinal bleeding. 

If your dog is displaying signs of heatstroke head to your primary care or emergency veterinarian right away. While traveling to the vet's office, keep the windows open or the air conditioner on full to help cool your pet.

If you cannot get to a vet's office immediately, take your dog out of the hot environment as quickly as possible and allow them to drink as much cool water as they want without forcing them to drink. You can also help to bring your dog's body temperature down by placing a towel soaked in cool (not cold) water over them.

How is heatstroke in dogs treated?

Safely reducing your dog's body temperature will be the main focus of your vet. Cool water may be poured over your dog's head, body, and feet, or cool wet cloths may be applied to those areas. In some cases, rubbing alcohol may be applied to your dog's footpads in order to help dilate pores and increase perspiration. Treatment for dogs with heatstroke may also include intravenous fluids, mild sedation, and low-concentration oxygen therapy.

In addition to treating the most pressing symptoms of heatstroke, your vet will also monitor your dog will for secondary complications like changes in blood pressure, electrolytes abnormalities, kidney failure, development of neurologic symptoms, and abnormal clotting. 

What can I do to prevent heatstroke in my dog?

Prevention of heatstroke is key when it comes to the health and wellbeing of your canine companion. Reducing the likelihood of heatstroke in your dog by following the tips below:

  • Never leave a dog alone in a car. Even parking in the shade and leaving the windows slightly open could lead to the temperature in your car skyrocketing! Studies have shown that even on cooler days, the temperature inside a car can rise by as much as 40 degrees in as little as one hour.
  • Know your dog's level of heatstroke risk and take extra care with dogs with higher risk. Dog breeds with flat or 'squished' faces (aka brachycephalic) are more likely to experience heatstroke than dogs with longer noses. At-risk breeds include bulldogs, Boston terriers, Boxers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Shih Tzus, and mastiffs.
  • Dogs that are obese or those with underlying heart conditions may be particularly susceptible to heatstroke.
  • If you must leave your dog outside for long periods during hot weather, be sure to provide plenty of water and shade. A baby pool for a dog left outside may help, as they can cool themselves down while they play by jumping in! Special cooling vests for dogs are also available for dogs that spend a lot of time in the heat.
  • Working dogs can become very focused on their job and forget to rest. Enforce rest breaks for your working dog to allow your pup's body to cool down (even if they don't want to).

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

Is your dog showing signs of heatstroke? Visit our Fort Pierce emergency vets right away to get urgent veterinary care for your pet. Late nights, weekends, and holidays, our emergency veterinarians are here to help 24/7.

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Animal Emergency & Referral Center is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Fort Pierce companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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