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Heat Stroke in Dogs

Dogs can (and many dogs do) suffer from heat stroke in the summer months. Know the signs of heat stroke in dogs and how to administer first aid treatment.

Bracycephalic (flat-faced) dogs such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, and French Bulldogs, are more prone to heatstroke than other breeds, as they are less able to cool themselves via panting due to their stenotic nares (small and pinched openings to their airway), elongated soft palate (which protrudes into the airway and interferes with air movement), and narrow tracheas. These dogs will overheat sooner, in lower temperatures, than other dogs. Photo by Liudmila Chernetska, Getty Images.

Most of us have heard a horrendous story about a dog suffering from heat stroke. Heat stroke can affect any dog in a situation that is too hot. These situations include sitting inside a non-air conditioned vehicle, laying outside in the sunshine on a hot summer day, or going for a walk or run when it is too hot and humid outdoors.

Signs of heat stroke

  • Excessive panting. Dogs regulate their body temperature by panting, so it is normal for a dog to pant when he is warm. A dog who pants while hanging his head low, excessively drooling, walking slowly, and using his abdominal muscles to breathe is excessively panting.
  • Red, blue, purple, or gray gums. Dogs experiencing heat stroke will initially have bright red gums. But as heat stroke progresses and the dog goes into shock, their gums will turn blue, purple, or gray.
  • Lethargy, disorientation, and uncoordinated walking. A dog exhibiting these symptoms may be experiencing the advanced stages of heat stroke.
  • Collapse, vomiting, or seizures are the signs of end-stage heat stroke.

How to treat acute heat stroke

Quick intervention is the key to helping a dog that is experiencing heat stroke:

Move the dog to a shady location that is well-ventilated.

  • Pour cool water over the dog, making sure to avoid the face. Do not use cold water or ice water; this will cool a dog down too quickly and send him into shock.
  • Do not apply cool or wet towels to the dog. Towels trap heat against the dog’s body, worsening the heat stroke condition.
  • If available, place a fan near the dog so that air can move over his body. This will help the water on his body evaporate (which causes a reduction in the air temperature immediately next to the dog) and carry away excess heat.
  • If the dog is alert and not collapsed, seizing, or disoriented, you may offer small amounts of cool water to drink. Do not syringe water into a dog’s mouth; doing so may result in aspiration pneumonia.
  • Transport the dog to the nearest veterinary hospital. If the dog has collapsed, is vomiting, or is having seizures, do not delay in seeking veterinary attention.
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Following these simple steps can help save the life of a dog experiencing heat stroke.

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