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Posted on 07-24-2015

Heat Stroke in Dogs

Heat stroke is an extreme elevation in body temperature that occurs when the body cannot cope with excessive external heat. Heat stroke in dogs typically results from a body temperature of over 104° F, though the most significant damage occurs when the body reaches over 106° F. All the body’s major systems can be affected leading to kidney and liver failure, damage to the muscle of the heart, fluid accumulation in the lungs, and even brain damage. 


Early recognition of the signs of hyperthermia (over heating) is critical to give your pet the best chance of survival. Symptoms include:

  • Panting

  • Excessive drooling

  • Increased body temperature - above 103° F

  • Reddened gums

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Vomiting blood

  • Passage of frank red blood in the stool or black, tarry stools

  • Small, pinpoint areas of bruising on the skin or gums

  • Seizures or tremors

  • Wobbly, incoordinated or drunken movements

  • Depression or dullness

Causes and risk factors

 Most cases of heat stroke are preventable if you know what to avoid and which pets are at increased risk.

  • Excessive environmental heat and humidity (may be due to weather conditions, such as a hot day, or to being enclosed in an unventilated room, car, or grooming dryer cage)

  • Excessive exercise

  • Not having adequate access to water

  • Heat stroke occurs most commonly in dogs (as opposed to cats). It can affect any breed, but is more frequent in long-haired dogs and short-nosed, flat-faced dogs, also known as brachycephalic breeds. It can occur at any age but tends to affect young dogs more than old dogs

  • Many underlying diseases increase the likelihood of developing hyperthermia, such as heart disease, obesity, collapsing trachea, and other respiratory diseases


Cooling your dog down to a safe temperature is key to his or her recovery. Immediately move the dog to a cool area, or at least out of a hot car or building and into the shade. Almost all dogs will require veterinary care and support and cooling with intravenous fluids, but you can begin the process with some external cooling techniques. Spraying the dog down with cool water or wrapping the dog in cool, wet towels are safe and effective ways to decrease their body temperature. Be very careful if submerging a dog in a pool or body of water as they could easily inhale water in their weakened state and drown or develop pneumonia. If your dog is alert and willing, allow them to drink cool, not cold, water freely. However, do not force your dog to drink. Stop cooling procedures when temperature reaches 103° F (using a rectal thermometer) to avoid dropping below normal body temperature. You will need to have your dog examined by a veterinarian to ensure that a normal temperature has been reach and has stabilized, and that no long lasting damage has taken place within the organs or brain. Complications, such as a blood-clotting disorder, kidney failure, or fluid build-up in the brain will need to be immediately and thoroughly treated. 


If your dog is older, or is a brachycephalic breed that is prone to overheating, avoid taking your dog out during the hottest times of day. Do not leave your dog in places that can become too hot for you to be comfortable, like a garage, sunny room, sunny yard, or car. Never leave your dog in a parked car, even for only a few minutes, as a closed car becomes dangerously hot very quickly. Always have water accessible to your dog; on hot days you might even add ice blocks for your dog to lick.


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