dogs and heatstrokeOur summers keep getting warmed and the above average temperatures are forecasted to continue through until the end of the year as the climate crisis continues. However, even though summer has finally come to a close and temperatures are cooling off ever so slightly, we cannot lose our vigilance for heat related dangers and how they relate to our pets. Especially when it comes to our dogs and heatstroke risks.

The danger for dogs and heatstroke

Heat stroke, or hyperthermia, is a life-threatening condition, but is seldom thought about in the cooler months. It is, after all, associated with animals overheating from exposure to heat. However, it is important to note that certain dogs are at higher risks than others and just because the weather outside is cooler does not mean that temperatures inside are.

What causes heat stroke in dogs?

Hyperthermia is a condition in which the body temperature is elevated above normal.  This can be a response to many things, such as inflammation in the body or the environment.  When humans need to cool down, we sweat through our skin. Dogs are not this fortunate; they release heat by panting and sweating through their pads and nose only. When their internal body temperature reaches 41°C (the average healthy temperature is between 37°C and 39°C) the heat begins to cause irreversible damage to their organs. By this point, there is little time before permanent damage, or death, can occur.

The good news is dogs usually begin to show signs of heat stroke before they need emergency veterinary attention. Dogs suffering from heat exhaustion and then heat stroke will be panting vigorously.  Their gums become dark red and dry or tacky.  They may be nauseous  and vomit.  They will want to lie down and be unwilling or unable to get up.  They may become dizzy or disoriented, or even collapse and loose consciousness.

What to do if your dog has heatstroke

The first thing to do if you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke is to move your dog out of the heat.  You may begin cooling your dog with a cool (not iced) wet washcloth placed around their head, their foot pads and their belly.  You want to avoid covering their entire body, as the heat has to escape from somewhere.  You may also offer your dog cool water, but do not force them to drink it.  The idea is to reduce your dog’s internal body temperature to normal quickly and without over doing it.  Hypothermia (lower then normal body temperature) can be just as dangerous. Following these measures, you will want to call your vet and tell them you are on your way.

It is important to remain vigilant in the face of heat stroke, even in this cooler weather. Patti, a very active member on, took Annie, a Pomeranian, to her groomers in the winter.  To dry Annie’s glorious coat, the groomers left her under a dryer and when Patti arrived to take Annie home, she noticed she wasn’t breathing quite right. The owner of the establishment eventually offered Annie some water, but not before her temperature had reached 42°C. Patti immediately called her vet who stayed open late to care for Annie. The little dog was put on an ice pack in an oxygen chamber and given fluids while Patti waited outside. After a few hours, she was doing well and Annie now shows no sign of lasting problems.

Annie was at high-risk of suffering from heat stroke because of her heavy-coat. To lower the risk of long or dark coated dogs, their coats can be trimmed to one inch in length (in hot weather). You want to leave some length as this protects from sunburn and provides needed insulation. The bracycephalic (flathead) breeds, such as Shih Tzus and Pugs, are at the highest risk of suffering from heat stroke. This is because these breeds have short faces and snubbed noses and are not able to effectively ventilate to reduce their body heat. Additionally, the very young and very old, the overweight and those that have heart conditions or breathing problems are at an elevated risk as well.

Although Annie was at a high risk for heat stroke, her condition could have easily have been prevented. Prevention in general can be a very straight forward process if you keep a few key points in mind. First of all, dogs’ temperatures run hotter then humans. Just because you are comfortable does not mean they are. Thus, if you must blow-dry your dog’s coat, use the cool setting. Dogs should also always have access to fresh water. Lastly, and we hear it every year, regardless of the outside temperature, dogs should never be left alone in a car!*

Always consult a veterinarian

Unfortunately, many dogs are not as lucky as Annie and do not survive their ordeal. Some, like Annie, fully recover with no lasting damage while others require lifelong treatment. The important thing is to take action and prevent heat stroke before it strikes. If, however, you do find your dog in distress, call ahead to your veterinarian and seek medical attention immediately. It can be the difference between life and death.

*For additional preventative measures and information regarding heat stroke, consult with a veterinarian.



{CREDITS: Written by Krystine McKinnon  |  Photography by Angelo Pantazis}