We’ve all heard the warnings that dogs die in hot cars, but there’s a lot more to canine heatstroke than that. Heatstroke has very serious consequences and can even be fatal.
Read on to learn more about the risks and symptoms, what you can do to prevent it and how to administer first aid to affected dogs.
What is heatstroke?
Heatstroke happens when a dog’s ability to regulate its body temperature becomes overwhelmed and the dog overheats. When the dog’s temperature rises above 40°C, irreversible changes such as brain damage and organ failure start to occur.
Why do dogs get heatstroke?
Dogs only have sweat glands in their paws and so are much more susceptible to overheating than people. Dogs rely on panting to keep them cool, but there is a limit to how much it can do.
The main form of heatstroke (environmental heatstroke) occurs when dogs are exposed to high temperatures, the classic example being when dogs are left in hot cars. But dogs can also get another type of heatstroke. Exertional heatstroke is exercise related and can occur at any time of year.
Can ANY dog get heatstroke?
The short answer is yes. But research shows some dogs are at higher risk:
Purebred dogs and especially certain breeds, especially brachycephalic (flat-nosed) breeds and those with thick double coats:
Large breed dogs
Dogs that are overweight
Elderly dogs or those with underlying health conditions such as respiratory or heart disease
Working or sporting dogs
Those with dark coloured coats
What are the signs of heatstroke?
Increased breathing rate and effort
Loss of energy, lethargy
Weakness and collapse
Bright red gums and tongue
Lips drawn back in a grimace, tongue extended
Muscle tremors, seizures
Loss of consciousness, coma
How can heatstroke in dogs be prevented?
NEVER leave a dog in a hot car or van. The internal temperature can reach 40°C within just 10 mins of being parked in full sun. Leaving the windows open has very little effect.
Do NOT exercise dogs when it is hot – dogs exercising in warmer conditions have developed heat stroke in as little as 6 minutes. Exercise them early morning or late evening, or skip the walk altogether – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Avoid exercising any dog that is elderly, unwell, brachycephalic (flat-faced) or has a heart or respiratory condition, even when it is just warm or humid.
Provide dogs with plenty of shade and fresh drinking water.
Take walks near to water and encourage dogs to take a dip but limit swimming and water play to 10-15 mins to prevent water poisoning.
Look out for toxic blue-green algae in summer.
Keep dogs’ coats short in summer months.
Monitor dogs closely after they’ve been exposed to high temperatures or been exercising in the sun. Do not leave them alone until you are sure they’re OK as signs of heatstroke can be delayed and come on even after the exercise/heat exposure has stopped.
If leaving a dog after exercise, choose the coolest place in the house; avoid conservatories, south facing rooms and spots in direct sunlight.
Prevent dogs from getting overweight. Keep them fit and exercise them within their limits.
What should I do if my I suspect my dog is suffering from heatstroke?
Start cooling the dog immediately, and contact your vet for advice.
Click here to find out more about What to do if a Dog is Overheating.
Who can I contact for more information?
If you're worried about your dog and think it is suffering from heatstroke, contact your vet immediately.
Hall, E.J. et al. (2020). Incidence and risk factors for heat-related illness (heatstroke) in UK dogs under primary veterinary care in 2016. Sci Rep 10, 9128
McNicholl, J. et al. (2016). Influence of the Environment on Body Temperature of Racing Greyhounds. Frontiers in Vet Sci, 3: 5
McLaren, C. et al. (2005). Heat Stress From Enclosed Vehicles: Moderate Ambient Temperatures Cause Significant Temperature Rise in Enclosed Vehicles. Pediatrics 116, e109–e112;
Bruchim, Y. et al (2006). Heat Stroke in Dogs: A Retropsective Study of 54 Cases (1999-2004) and Analysis of Risk Factors for Death. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 20, 38-46.