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Heatstroke in Dogs: What Every Owner Should Know

by Amanda Brahlek | 06.08.2022
A dog in a wheat field on a hot day

Summer is one of the best times of year for dogs and their owners. The sunshine and longer days invite more outdoor playtime, walks, hikes, and other adventures. However, as temperatures rise, many dogs face the serious risk of heatstroke. Luckily, dog parents can reduce the risk of their dogs suffering from this potentially fatal condition by knowing the signs and how to prevent their dogs from overheating. This article will cover how to prevent heatstroke in dogs, what signs of heatstroke in dogs to look for, and what to do if you believe your dog may be suffering from heatstroke.

Heatstroke vs. Heat Stress in Dogs

Dogs naturally run hotter than we do with an average body temperature of 101 to 102.5-degrees Fahrenheit. A slight shift to 103-degrees is considered a fever for your best friend. If your dog’s body temperature continues to rise to 106-degrees Fahrenheit, they’re at risk of heat stress and heatstroke. An additional one to three-degree shift can lead to organ failure and loss of life.

The difference between heat stress and heatstroke is that in heat stress, a dog’s body is naturally able to cool itself back down to a safe temperature. In heatstroke, the body loses its ability to return to a safe temperature on its own.

When a dog experiences heat stress, there are no long-term health consequences. Unlike heat stress, heatstroke encompasses nearly every one of your dog’s bodily systems and has long-term effects on your dog's health–and can be fatal if your dog goes untreated.

Why Dogs Are Highly Susceptible to Heatstroke

Not only do dogs wear fur coats day-in and day-out, but they aren’t equipped with the same process we have to regulate our body temperature: sweating. While dogs do have sweat glands in their paw pads, they rely on panting to expel heat from their bodies to cool off.

What Dogs Are at Higher Risk for Heatstroke?

Dogs with short snouts (brachycephalic breeds), such as Pugs, Frenchies, and Boston Terriers have a higher risk for heatstroke due to their uniquely flat faces. In fact, these adorable dogs have the added risk of tongue swelling, which can restrict their airways.

Older dogs and overweight dogs also have a harder time regulating their body temperatures, as well.

The Effects of Heatstroke in Dogs

Because heatstroke affects the entire body, it can have a wide range of serious consequences. When internal systems and organs become too hot, they can begin to shut down, leading to:

Know the Signs. Protect Your Pup from Heatstroke.

As a dog parent, you can keep your beloved best friend safe from heatstroke by recognizing the early and more serious signs that they’re overheating. Catching heatstroke early can save your dog’s life!

Early Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs

Catching overheating during the heat stress phase, before escalating to heatstroke is key to keeping your dog safe this summer. While watching for a rise in body temperature is a sure sign of early heatstroke, most dog parents don’t carry a thermometer with them. So, look for these signs to protect your dog:

Signs of Worsening Heatstroke

Should your dog’s condition progress to severe heatstroke, you will see a combination of some of the following signs:

6 Practical Ways to Keep Your Dog Safe This Summer

tips for preventing heatstroke in dogs

While heatstroke is quite serious, it’s also easy to prevent. Some simple proactive precautions can keep your dog made in the shade this summer. 

1. Provide Plenty of Shade

If your dog adores their backyard, but you’re worried about high temperatures, create a shady oasis. This can be as simple as a beach umbrella, a canopy, a DIY doggie pergola, or adding a few shady shrubs to your landscaping.

2. Avoid the Midday Sun

One of the easiest ways to keep your canine companion cool is to avoid outdoor activities during the hottest times of day. Schedule walks and outdoor activities for the morning or evening–and keep bathroom breaks during the middle of the day short.

3. Provide Plenty of Water

Hydration is vital for keeping your dog’s temperature in the safe zone. If your dog is spending time outdoors, including any hikes, provide access to cool, fresh water. Place your dog’s backyard water bowl out of the direct sun to keep the water cooler.

For dogs that tend to avoid drinking water, try freezing your dog’s favorite snack into some ice cube to make hydration more fun.

4. A Puppy Pool Can Be a Summer Paradise

A baby pool makes a perfect place for your dog to splash around and cool off. Placing your dog’s pool in the shade is always a good idea, and remember to refresh the water before your dog dives in.

5. Avoid Walking on Hot Surfaces

Because dogs rely on sweat pads in their paws, it’s vital to keep their paws healthy. This includes avoiding walking on hot surfaces such as asphalt and astroturf, which can burn your dog’s paw pads. 

If you’re going for a walk or hike during the day, encourage your pup to walk on grass or on shaded surfaces.

6. Increase Indoor Enrichment

Many dogs can become restless when it becomes too hot for midday play outdoors. To combat boredom and encourage your dog to expend some extra energy, provide plenty of play opportunities indoors. Keep in mind that mental enrichment is often just as beneficial as physical exercise for restless dogs.

Easy Indoor Enrichment Activities

What to do If You Suspect Your Dog is Suffering from Heatstroke

A happy dog cooling off after getting too hot outside

If you suspect your dog may be suffering from heatstroke or heat stress, it’s important to respond swiftly, by:

      1. Immediately bring your dog into an air-conditioned location and provide access to cool water.
      2. Wrap your dog in a damp towel or pour room temperature water over them. Never douse your dog in cold water–this can send them into shock.
      3. If you have a rectal thermometer on-hand, take your dog’s temperature. A safe temperature is 102.5 degrees.
      4. Call your vet and head their way. Giving your vet a heads up allows them to prepare for your dog’s arrival. They can also instruct you on how to administer any additional first aid they may recommend.

Stay in the Shade & Celebrate Summer Safely

A red and tan dog on a hammock, avoiding heatstroke in the shade

Keeping your dog cool in summer is as easy as a few proactive steps of hydration, shade, and planning summer fun during cooler times of the day. However, knowing what to do should your dog begin to overheat can save your dog’s life. As the temperatures rise, don’t hesitate to get creative with ways to add shade to your backyard or provide your dog with healthy indoor enrichment activities.

Amanda Brahlek

Amanda Brahlek

Amanda, author of The Complete Guide to Owning a Deaf Dog, is a lifelong animal lover that has dedicated her life to making pet ownership easier through her writing. She holds a certification in Chicken Behavior and Welfare through the University of Edinburgh. She is the proud pet parent of two dogs, a cat, and a small flock of chickens.

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