Canine heatstroke: do you know what to do?

Posted: July 24th, 2015 | Featured, Pets | No Comments

By Sari Reis

Canine heatstroke is the result of a dog’s inability to regulate his body temperature when overheated. With summer upon us, it is an ever-present danger. Canines do not sweat as we do. Their sweat glands are in their noses and in their paw pads. Their ability to release heat is basically through panting, which often isn’t enough. With fur-covered bodies and their feet in contact with hot pavement, a dog’s temperature can rise very rapidly. Short-snouted dogs such as pugs and boxers as well as elderly dogs, puppies and dogs with other health issues are at higher risk. Since heatstroke can lead to irreversible damage to major organs and even cause death, it is essential that you understand the symptoms and treatment.

A dog’s normal body temperature is between 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If his temperature rises to over 105, he will start to experience heatstroke. Once it reaches 106 – 108 degrees, organ damage can begin to occur. Since most of us don’t walk our dogs with a rectal thermometer handy, it is essential that you be aware of the symptoms:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hyperventilation
  • Increased salivation
  • Glazed eyes
  • Weakness
  • Staggering or confusion
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Collapse

If the overheating isn’t corrected, your dog could possibly stop breathing, have a seizure or even fall into a coma. If you notice any of these symptoms or a combination of them, you need to act quickly.

First of all, get the dog into shade. Hopefully you will have a source of cool water on you or near you. Apply the water to the dog’s inner thighs, stomach and the pads of his feet. If possible, use running water from a hose. Do not submerge your dog in a tub of water or use water that is too cold as this could cool him down too fast, causing other problems. Avoid putting a wet towel on him as the air needs to flow around him allowing the applied water to evaporate. Do not enclose him in a kennel; if possible, keep him moving. Give him small amounts of cool water to drink, but make sure he doesn’t drink it too fast.

Once he has started cooling and no longer appears distressed, get him to a veterinarian as soon as possible. If you continue to try to cool him for too long, hypothermia could result. Since the effects of heatstroke can continue for up to 72 hours, it is essential the dog be checked out by a veterinarian to ensure there is no internal damage.

Recognizing the signs of heatstroke and knowing how to treat it are imperative; however, prevention is the best solution. Don’t walk your dog in the heat of the day; stop frequently in shady spots whenever possible; have plenty of cool water for him to drink on hand and offer it frequently; do not let your dog walk on hot asphalt; and never leave your dog in a parked car on a warm day. Keeping these things in mind will make summer walks a pleasure for both of you.

—Sari Reis is a Humane Education Specialist and the owner of Mission Valley Pet Sitting Services. For more information you can contact her at 760-644-0289 or

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