What is Heat Stroke?
Also known as hyperthermia, heat stroke is a condition that occurs when your dog’s body temperature becomes too high. Your dog’s natural body temperature is about 100°F to 102.5°F. An increase as little as one or two degrees (103°F) is considered abnormally high.
Once your dog’s body temperature rises to between 104° and 105°F, it is classified as moderate heat stroke. As long as you take immediate action to cool your dog down, he can recover in as little as an hour.
If his temperature rises to 105-106+°F, however, the situation can quickly become deadly and immediate veterinary attention is required. The critical temperature in which multiple organ failure and death occurs is around 107°F to 109°F.
Heat stroke is not a condition that should be taken lightly…
What Causes Heat Stroke?
The number one cause of heat stroke in dogs is their being left in a car without adequate ventilation. A dog’s body temperature in this situation rises rapidly in just a few minutes. It is crucial to remember that dogs are unable to control their body temperature through sweating as humans can. Their primary mechanism for cooling is panting. The chart below shows how quickly the temperature rises inside an unventilated vehicle.
Heat stroke can strike anywhere, though, so please be mindful of dogs outside in hot temperatures for any period of time. Dogs that are overweight or those with restricted airways (brachycephalic breeds such as boxers) are especially susceptible to overheating.
Early Warning Signs Of Heat Stress / Exhaustion In Dogs
Learning to recognize the signs of heat stress and heat exhaustion (the milder forms of heat stroke) can literally be the difference between life and death for your dog. Your hound cannot tell you verbally when he is overheating, but there are a few signs you can look for that point to a developing problem.
- Rapid Panting – Your dog will naturally begin panting in warm temperatures. If your dog’s panting becomes excessive or if he has trouble breathing, however, it could be an early sign of heat stroke.
- Excessive Drooling – When your dog begins to experience heat stress, he may begin to drool excessively. In many cases, his saliva will become thicker and stickier than usual.
- Rapid Heart Rate / Pulse - The body’s heart rate will increase in an attempt to pump blood to the extremities, away from the vital organs. Seeking Shade and Frequent Rests
- Increased Anxiety
- Wide and Stressed Eyes
- Drinking Water from Puddles or Other Sources
What To Do If Your Dog Is Showing Signs Of Heat Stress / Exhaustion
If you suspect that your dog is suffering from heat stress / exhaustion, you need to take action right away.
Follow these guidelines:
- It sounds obvious but the first step is to move your dog away from the warm environment to stop further heat absorption. Move them to a safe, shaded place. If you can move them to a place with air conditioning that is better still.
- A wet blanket or towel can be placed under your pet to aid cooling and provide comfort
- Next, offer small amounts of water every few minutes. Do not let your dog gulp down lots of water in one go, as this may make him throw up.
- If you have access to a thermometer, measure your dog's temperature by placing the bulb inside the rectum.
- If your dog’s temperature is below 104°F, continue to allow your dog to rest and drink small amounts of water. Carry on monitoring your dog's temperature until it is back to the normal range. Once back to normal, and if your dog seems more like himself, then you can return home, but keep a close eye on him for 24 hours.
- If your dog’s temperature is at or above 104°F, then begin cooling him down by spraying or sponging him with cool water (not too cold) all over his body. Fans are great to use too, as they will increase evaporation from the skin. You can stop when your dog’s body temperature drops to 103.5°F, but keep your dog rested with access to water, as in steps 1-4 above.
- In both cases (4 & 5), please call your veterinarian while you are cooling your dog to seek their advice on whether your dog needs to be professionally checked over.
Top Tip: Buy a flexible digital thermometer and carry it with you when going out with your dog on hot days.
When To Seek Immediate Help
There are certain circumstances in which it is better to seek veterinary help right away. Call for veterinary assistance immediately if:
- You do not have a thermometer available to accurately assess your dog's condition
- You have no means to start cooling your dog down
- If your pet is vomiting or has diarrhea
- If you notice any bleeding or bruising
- If your pet is collapsed and / or unresponsive
- If seizures are occurring
If you are concerned or unsure, do not hesitate to call your veterinarian.
Time To Stop Heat Stroke Once And For All
Heat stroke is such an easily preventable condition yet, year after year, there are too many cases being reported. Take the time to pass this article to your dog parent friends and help raise awareness.
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