Heat Stroke – A Potentially Life Threatening Danger Only You Can Prevent

Heat stroke is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Once the signs of heat stroke are detected, there is precious little time before serious damage — or even death — can occur.

Your dog does not sweat through their skin like we do. Rather, they release heat primarily by panting and through their nose and foot pads. If a dog cannot effectively expel heat, their internal body temperature begins to rise. Once the dog’s temperature reaches 106°, damage to the body’s cellular system and organs may become irreversible.

Unfortunately, too many dogs succumb to heat stroke when it could have been avoided. Being able to recognize these signs and symptoms is the key to preventing it from happening to your pet.

What are the signs of heat stroke?

  • Vigorous panting
  • Lying down and unwilling (or unable) to get up
  • Thick saliva
  • Dark red gums
  • Tacky or dry mucous membranes (specifically the gums)
  • Dizziness or disorientation
  • Collapsing and/or loss of consciousness
  • High rectal temperature (over 104° requires action & over 106° is a dire emergency!)

What should you do if you suspect your pet has heat stroke?

If you have even the slightest inkling that your dog may be suffering from heat stroke, take immediate action.

  • Move your dog out of the heat and away from the sun right away.
  • Begin cooling your dog by placing cool wet rags on the body, especially on the foot pads and around the head.
  • Do NOT use ice or very cold water! Extreme cold can cause the blood vessels to constrict, preventing the body’s core from cooling and actually causing the internal temperature to rise further. In addition, over-cooling can cause hypothermia, introducing a host of new problems. When the body temperature reaches 103°, stop cooling.
  • Offer your dog cool water, but do not force water into your dog’s mouth.
  • Call or visit your vet right away, even if your dog seems better. Internal damage might not be obvious to the naked eye so an exam is necessary. If other people are around, recruit them to help cool your dog while you call the vet.

Some dogs can fully recover from heat stroke if it is caught early enough. Others suffer permanent organ damage and require lifelong treatment. Sadly, many dogs do not survive heat stroke. With that said, prevention is the key to keeping your dog safe in warmer climates and protecting them from the dangers of heat stroke.

How do I prevent heat stroke?

Be aware and take these precautions:

  • NEVER leave your dog alone in the car on a warm day, even if the windows are open. Even if the weather outside is not extremely hot, the inside of the car acts like an oven. Temperatures can rise to dangerously high levels in a matter of just minutes.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise on warm days.
  • When outside, keep your dog in shady areas.
  • Keep fresh cool water available at all times.

Note that certain types of dogs are more sensitive to heat, especially obese dogs and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like Pugs and Bulldogs. Use extreme caution when these dogs are exposed to heat.