Heatstroke in Dogs - Signs, Symptoms and How to Cool Down

Alpine Dog Co. ™

As the weather begins to get warmer, we definitely want to spend more time outside. Parks, trails and beaches become hot spots for dog owners who are looking to enjoy the good weather with their sidekicks. It can be hard to understand that what may be enjoyable for us is too hot for our dogs, but it's important to keep in mind one really important factor; dogs don't sweat through their skin. They sweat through the pads of their paws and nose, and as sweat evaporates it draws out heat from the body. Panting is a dog's coping mechanism to cool themselves as it works to circulate the cool air into their body. 

The biggest factor of a dog overheating or suffering from a heatstroke is dehydration. Dogs naturally have a running temperature that is hotter than humans (101.5 degrees F,) and they need hydration to to continue cooling internally. 

So what is Heatstroke? Heatstroke happens when the dog body temperature is too high for them to be able to cool down or change on their own. Serious complications of this include cell and organ damage, seizures, fainting or death if not treated promptly. It's important to intervene when you see signs of overheating so that you can prevent heatstroke altogether. 

What do symptoms look like?

On the mild end, there is:

- Excessive, heavy panting

- Excessive drooling

- Tiredness; slowed movements

- Rolling in grass/ soil

These are pretty easy to spot in your dog. If you're doing activities that require a high level of physical energy or have been outside for an extended amount of time, you will start to notice these signs. This means it's breaktime. Provide water and shade, or bring them indoors. Rolling in grass or soil provides a cooling feeling for dogs, and coupled with other symptoms can mean it's time to take it easy. Once these symptoms have stopped, it may be okay to continue with light to moderate monitored activity. 

On a moderate end, symptoms begin to look like:

- Weakness; stumbling or shaking

- Vomiting or Nausea

- Diarrhea 

- glazed, watering eyes 

At this point, your dog would have a body temperature of 104-106 F. These are not cues for a breaktime - these are cues to stop all activity immediately. Bring your dog inside to a cool and well ventilated area and provide a good supply of water. Contact your veterinarian for any further instructions, as they may recommend you bringing them in for additional care. 

Heatstroke has set in when your dog is experiencing:

- Seizures

- Loss of consciousness

- Disorientation or confusion

- Collapsing/ refusing to move 

At this point your dog will have a body temperature of 106 F. This is an emergency, and your dog is in danger. You need to get your dog inside and go to the nearest animal hospital or veterinary clinic immediately. Do not force them to drink if they don't want to.

How do you cool down an overheated dog? Some tips from Homes Alive Pets include:

- Bring your dog inside (if possible), or at very least into a cooler shaded area if you are outdoors.

- Offer water immediately, but don’t force it on your dog. Just make sure there is a constant supply of fresh, clean water available. If your dog refuses to drink, you can try offering small portions of a moisture rich food, like watermelon or goat’s milk to encourage them.

- Check your dog’s temperature. It’s a good idea to have a small rectal or ear thermometer in your pet’s first aid kit. Normal body temperature for dogs is 101.5 F. Slight elevations can be easily addressed, but the higher their temperature, the more danger your dog is in.

- Try to drop your dog’s temperature gradually. Soak a cloth or towel in room temperature water and lay it on their neck and chest. It’s not recommended to try to use ice or very cold water to drop your dog’s temperature too drastically, as this can lead to shock.

- As the water on the towel evaporates, it will pull heat from your dog’s body. Place them in front of a gentle fan to speed up the evaporation process.

- Call your vet. Even if you are not sure if this is an emergency situation, a quick phone call could save your dog’s life.


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