Jul 29, 2022

Preventing Heat Stroke in Dogs

Irina Arye DVM Greater Staten Island Veterinary Services, A member of the GSVS Family of Veterinary Hospitals

It’s the time of year when everyone wants to enjoy the beautiful warm weather. However, this weather predisposes your dog to heat stroke, which is an emergency situation that requires immediate veterinary attention. Dogs do not tolerate the heat as well as humans do. Their only method of releasing the heat from their body is to pant, which is less effective in hot temperatures.

There are many situations that you need to keep in mind when taking your best friend with you on an outing in the hot weather. One of the first things you should consider is their breed. Short-nose breeds, such as bull dogs, pugs and Pekinese experience difficulty breathing when the temperatures rise. Long-haired breeds have even less tolerance for heat and should avoid long periods of exposure to high temperatures.

The most common cause of heat stroke in dogs is being left in the car. The car can heat up quickly, much quicker than it would seem. For example, on a 78-degree day, which does not seem too hot, the car can reach temperatures of 100 to 120 degrees in minutes, especially if standing in the sun.

The best way to prevent severe side effects of heat stroke, besides avoiding situations that predispose to heat stroke, is to identify the onset of heat stroke as soon as possible. The signs you should look for include excess panting, excessive drooling, reddened gums, decreased urine production, respiratory distress, vomiting (potentially with blood), diarrhea (potentially bloody stool/black stool), change in the mental state, and drunken gate. With the onset of severe heat stroke, dogs will start showing even more severe signs: severe dehydration, pinpoint bleeding in the skin, severe kidney failure, rapid heart rate/irregular heart rhythm, shock, cardiopulmonary arrest, blood clotting disorders, systemic inflammatory response syndrome, breakdown of red blood cells, liver cell death, muscle tremors, seizures or unconsciousness.

Treatment at a veterinary hospital will include active cooling to bring down the patient’s temperature as soon as possible. It is important not to use ice cold water to avoid negative side effects on the cooling process, but instead use cool water to bring down the temperature in a more controlled way. In the hospital, cool water baths and intravenous fluids (sometimes cooled) are administered to start bringing down the patient’s temperature as well. 

It is important to remember to take precautions when you bring your dog outside this summer. Have plenty of cool water for your dog, and take frequent breaks if taking a long walk. Avoid situations that may predispose your dog to heat stroke ,and if you think your pet may be showing signs of heat stroke, have them evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Make it a safe summer for all.

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the professional advice of your veterinarian.