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July's Topic of the Month: Heatstroke Awareness

Why Is It An Issue

Dog fur is great protection against the cold but can be a problem in hot weather.  This is because, unlike humans, dogs eliminate heat by panting.  The only sweat glands a dog has are in the foot pads, which can only minimally help with heat dissipation.  When panting isn’t enough, their body temperature rises.  This can be fatal if not corrected quickly.

Some Dogs Are At Greater Risk Then Others

Dogs with thick fur, short noses, or those suffering from medical conditions such as laryngeal paralysis and obesity are predisposed to heat stroke.  In addition, dogs that enjoy constant exercise and playtime – such as working dogs (Labradors, Springer Spaniels, etc.) – should be closely monitored for signs of overheating, especially on hot days.


Heat stroke can be prevented by taking caution not to expose a dog to hot and humid conditions.  This is especially applicable to dogs with airway diseases and breeds with shortened faces (e.g. Pugs, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus).

While traveling in cars, make sure that the dog is well ventilated by placing it in a wire kennel or open basket.  Never leave your dog in a car with the windows closed, even if it is parked in the shade.

When outdoors, always make sure your dog is in a well-ventilated area with access to plenty of water and shade.

What To Watch For

  • Excessive Panting
  • Signs of Discomfort
  • Lethargy

Immediate Care

  • It is essential to remove the dog from the hot environment immediately
  • If it is unconscious, make sure no water enters the nose or mouth as you follow these guidelines
  • Do not give the dog aspirin to lower its temperature – this can lead to other problems
  1. Put your dog in the bathtub
  2. Run a cool (not cold) shower over your pet, covering the whole body – especially the head and neck
  3. Allow the water to fill the bathtub as you shower the dog.  Keep the head elevated to prevent aspiration pneumonia
  4. If getting the dog in into the tub is impractical, use a garden hose to cool the dog or place him in a pool of cool water
  5. Apply a cold pack to the dog’s head to help lower his body temperature – a packet of frozen vegetables works fine
  6. Massage the legs.  A vigorous rubbing helps the dog’s circulation and reduces the risks of shock
  7. Let the dog drink as much cool or cold water as it wants.  Adding a pinch of salt to the water bowl will help the dog replace minerals it lost through panting

Follow-up Care

The following steps should be taken, regardless of whether the dog is conscious, appears to recover well, or was only mildly affected:

  1. Check for signs of shock – pale gums, fixed stare, dilated pupils, rapid breathing and heart rate
  2. Take the dog’s temperature every five minutes, continuing water-cooling until it drops below 103°F (39.4°C)
  3. If the dog’s temperature drops a little more – to around 100°F (37.8°C) – don’t worry.  A slightly low temperature is a lot less dangerous than a high one
  4. Treat for shock if necessary
  5. Get immediate veterinary attention.  Heatstroke can cause unseen problems such as: swelling of the brain, kidney failure, and abnormal blood clotting.  On the way to the vet, travel with the windows open and A/C on.