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Heat Stroke in Dogs: Signs, Treatment and Preventive Measures Pet Parents Needs to Know

by Vetic Editorial
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Heat stroke in dogs is a serious condition induced by excessive heat. It happens when the body is unable to control its own temperature due to the rising external temperature. 

Since dogs cannot sweat like humans to maintain a cooler body temperature, they are predisposed to heat strokes in the Indian summers.

dog in the sunlight

What is heat stroke in dogs?

Dogs have sweat glands only in their paws and their bodies are not very good at dissipating heat. The normal body temperature of dogs can be up to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature above 103 is considered high and abnormal. 

When the external temperature keeps rising, your dog might find it difficult or impossible to cool off and maintain a normal body temperature. 

During a heat stroke, a dog’s body temperature may rise to 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher (hyperthermia). Any temperature higher than 107 degrees Fahrenheit can cause irreversible damage to your pup’s internal organs. 

Never try to estimate a dog’s body temperature by touching their ears or belly with bare hands. Use a proper thermometer to take the rectal temperature or rush them to the nearest clinic if you suspect they have hyperthermia. 

What are the signs of heat stroke in dogs?

The signs of heat stroke in dogs can be difficult to detect for new pet parents. However, keep an eye out for the following heat stroke symptoms –

  • Excessive panting
  • Rapid breathing 
  • Dry or very sticky gums (dehydration)
  • Excessively red or pale gums 
  • Bruising in the gums
  • Lethargy 
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Disorientation 
  • Inability to walk or move
  • Seizures 

These are all signs that your dog needs immediate medical attention. Try to cool them off while taking them to the vet. Heat stroke symptoms progress rapidly. Do not wait and watch when you have the option of rushing your vet to a 24/7 emergency care pet clinic in your neighbourhood. 

What can cause heat stroke in dogs?

Heat strokes in dogs can happen even when the surrounding seems “not that hot.” You need to keep an eye on the humidity and the real feel of the day’s temperature before taking your dog out. 

  • Leaving your dog in the car without the AC during summer can cause a heat stroke within 5 minutes. 
  • Similarly, leaving them in a small enclosed area without shade and water can lead to heat stroke. 
  • Even exercising or walking your dog in the daytime during the NCR-Gurgaon summers can cause a heat stroke. 
  • Heat strokes can happen to indoor dogs as well if you do not have a well-ventilated, cool room for them. 

Always remember, if you are feeling hot, your dog is feeling hotter. 

Are certain dogs susceptible to heat strokes?

Dogs mostly dissipate heat by panting. So, dog breeds with flat faces or brachycephalic breeds like Pug, bulldogs, Shih Tzu, Boxers and some mastiffs are more prone to heat strokes. 

Pugs on a walk

Breeds that have a shortened airway often find it difficult to get rid of the excess heat from their body. 

Additionally, geriatric and obese dogs are at a higher risk of suffering heat strokes as compared to other dogs. 

Try to keep them indoors and in a cool place at all times during the day. Do not walk your dog after sunrise or before sunset if they are brachycephalic. 

If your dog is panting more than usual or showing signs of respiratory distress take them to the clinic immediately!

Can heat stroke be fatal?

Sadly, yes! Persistent high temperatures (above 103 degrees) with excessively high respiratory rates increase the risk of cardiovascular episodes in all dog breeds. 

Heat stroke can lead to seizures. Seizures further increase the body temperature of the distressed dog.

Hyperthermia (temperatures between 107 and 109 degrees Fahrenheit) can cause damage to multiple organs and lead to multiple organ failure in even the smallest of breeds. 

How can I prevent heat stroke in dogs?

You should keep your dog cool and calm during the summer months to minimise the chances of a heat stroke.

  • Do not take them out for a walk during the daytime. 
  • Do not keep them in kennels outside the house. 
  • Do not leave them in your car without the AC running. 
  • Do not leave them on the balcony or garage, in direct sunlight for even 5 minutes. 
  • Give them plenty of cool water for drinking. 
  • Whenever necessary, switch on the AC inside your house where your dog stays.
  • Avoid keeping them in any area with no shade. 

What is the treatment for dogs experiencing heat stroke?

Heat stroke is almost always lethal without proper treatment. Treatment for heat stroke in dogs is not optional. It is mandatory. 

The first course of action involves cooling your dog. Remove your pet from the hot area immediately and take them to the emergency pet care clinic.

sick dog

Depending on the temperature and severity of the situation, your veterinarian can recommend a cool bath and/or direct IV fluids. 

Heat stroke in dogs is always an emergency and you should treat it as such. At-home treatments for heat strokes rarely work since pet parents often detect the signs and symptoms of heat stroke pretty late. 

Can my dog survive a heat stroke?

Dogs can survive heat strokes if they receive the correct treatment at the correct time. 

At the pet clinic, your dog may receive IV drips, cooling treatments and medication along with respiratory support. 

Any episode of heat stroke requires close monitoring and continuing treatment. 

While your dog is still recovering, try to keep them as cool as possible. Use cooling pads at home. Turn the AC on whenever it’s hot outside. And look for any odd symptoms that might indicate distress. 

What should pet parents never do in case of heat stroke in dogs?

Remember these points, since they can save your dog’s life –

Do not rely only on the ceiling fan 

Your dog cannot sweat. Hence the ceiling fan cannot evaporate the sweat to cool your dog down!

NEVER use ice or ice packs

Dog with ice on head

Your dog is burning up, your first instinct is to fetch the ice. We get it! But the ice or ice pack will constrict the blood vessels on the surface of your dog’s body and prevent the heat from dissipating. And we want somewhat dilated blood vessels until the temperature is down. 

Never use cold water

The reason is more or less the same for not using cold water. You can use cool water instead of cold and switch the fan as well as the AC on for a temporary solution until you can ready the car to take them to the vet. 

Don’t travel in the car without the AC on

Even if the pet care clinic is “just 5 minutes away”, it can mean life and death for your dog when they have suffered a heat stroke. Always travel in a well-cooled car with your pupper when you suspect they have suffered a heat stroke. 

Don’t wait for the clinic staff to ask you “What’s wrong”

Heat stroke in dogs is when you rush! We have emergency services ready for such situations. This is probably one of the very few situations where we ask pet parents to NOT wait in line and simply inform the available staff about their predicament. 

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