As dog people, we love our dogs.  We love them so much that we want to take them for walks and play outside with them.  We want them by our sides as we do yard work.  However, there are times we need to love them enough to leave them home in the air conditioning…because of the risk of heat stroke.

As the temperatures are heating up here in the Houston area, we are seeing more and more dogs coming in to our hospital needing emergency treatment for heatstroke. (And while this article will focus on dogs, please be aware that cats can experience heat stroke as well.  Never leave cats in vehicles or anywhere that they will not have adequate ventilation, shade and water.)

Your dog does not have words to tell you that he or she is hot.  Your dog wants to please you and will generally keep going along until they can’t.  There are cues a dog’s body will display that you need to be aware of and play close attention to:

  • excessive panting
  • a tongue, gums, inside of ears that are bright red
  • slowing down or stopping on walks/runs
  • drooling/salivating
  • signs of general discomfort
  • rapid heart rate
  • wide, stressed eyes
  • anxiety
  • seeking shade and water sources like puddles

As distress from heat exhaustion progresses to heat stroke, you may note:

  • gums that have turned pale
  • mental dullness
  • loss of consciousness
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea (may become black in color)
  • dark or red urine
  • seizures
  • uncoordinated movement (stumbling, dizziness)
  • collapse

Some dogs are more prone to heat exhaustion and stroke however, be aware that ALL dogs can suffer from the heat.  Dogs who are older, overweight, or brachycephalic (the flat faced breeds) are often the first to suffer in the heat.  Dogs with thick fur, short noses or those with pre-existing medical conditions are also more susceptible.  By the way, your dog’s fur actually serves as an insulation from the heat and protection from sunburn so please do not shave them.

Dogs cannot sweat like humans do. In order to stay cool, dogs pant and use vasodilation (their blood vessels dilate to provide rapid dispersion of heat.)  As a dog’s body temperature rises above normal, heat exhaustion will set in and as it continues to rise and the mechanisms for cooling become overwhelmed and fail, heat stroke, a serious medical emergency, occurs. 

If your dog suffers heat exhaustion or stroke:

  • get your dog to a cooler area immediately
  • lower the body temperature by wetting your dog thoroughly with cool water, paying close attention to keeping it on their ears, paws, stomachs and inner thighs.  Do NOT use cold water as this causes the blood vessels to constrict and we need them to be rapidly circulating to disperse the heat.  (For very small dogs and/or puppies, use lukewarm water instead of cool.)
  • provide small amounts of cool or lukewarm water
  • Even if your dog seems to be recovering, make a call to your regular veterinarian or emergency veterinarian for advice and maybe a visit to be sure your dog is indeed safely out of danger.

If your dog has suffered a heat stroke, lower the body temperature as best as you can as get them to an emergency veterinarian immediately.