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Heatstroke in Dogs: Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Noticing the signs of heatstroke in your dog can be the difference between life and death. But many owners aren’t aware of the beginning signs. With temperatures rising during the Summer months, these are the signs you need to be aware of.

belgian shepherd heatstroke

Causes of Heatstroke in Dogs

Dogs only have a few sweat glands in their feet and nose. So at times, it’s harder for our furry friends to regulate their body temperatures. Heatstroke also affects humans and is a form of hyperthermia. 

Exercise is the most common cause of heatstroke in dogs. The PDSA states that 74% of heatstroke cases in dogs are attributed to exercise. Some dogs are affected by just simply laying in the sun.

Brachycephalic dogs are more prone to heatstroke. The breeds that fall under this category are French Bulldogs, French Mastiffs, Pomeranians, Shih Tzus, Dogue de Bordeauxs, Boston Terriers, Pugs and English Bulldogs.  

Your dog’s nose plays a strong role in keeping them cool. This is why brachycephalic dogs are the most at risk. Older and younger dogs will also be more susceptible to heatstroke. Not to forget those that are overweight or have thick fur! 

It’s important your dog receives enough water, air ventilation, and shade. A lack of these things during hot periods could cause heatstroke. Even a short walk in the sun can be more than enough to trigger heatstroke, especially for a brachycephalic dog!

Symptoms of Heatstroke in Dogs

  • Excessive panting
  • Drooling
  • Redness in gums
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle Tremours
  • Lethargic 
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Death

When dogs become overheated their panting helps to cool them down. Their normal body temperature is 38.6 degrees. If a dog is unable to reduce its body temperature through panting, it’ll develop heatstroke which can be life-threatening. 

Dogs will begin to excessively pant, followed by signs of discomfort such as barking and whining. Excessive thirst and drooling are other beginning signs of heatstroke. 

If heatstroke is caught during the early stages your dog is expected to make a full recovery. Any longer and this could lead to a vet trip or even worse, a fatality. The RSPCA asks people to dial 999 if they witness any dogs trapped in hot cars displaying signs of heatstroke.

There are two forms of heatstroke, exertional and non-exertional. The first is caused by exercising during particularly hot days. The second is caused by laying in the hot sun or being trapped in a hot car or room.

dog heatstroke

Preventing Heatstroke in Dogs 

There are plenty of ways in which dog owners can prevent their dogs from contracting heatstroke. Below we’ve listed the ways you can prevent heatstroke in your dog during the hot weather.

  • Ensure your dog has access to fresh drinking water throughout the day. 
  • Have a cool ventilated area indoors that your dog can escape to. There should also be adequate areas of shade outside so your dog isn’t being pounded by the sun.
  • No dog should ever be left inside a car, especially during hot temperatures. 5 minutes is all it takes for your dog to begin suffering from heatstroke!
  • Walk your dog during the cooler periods of the day to prevent overheating. Avoid vigorous exercise. Floors become excruciatingly hot and can severely damage your dog’s paws. 
  • If your dog is brachycephalic you will need to keep a closer eye on them. Some dogs within this category are up to 14 times more likely to contract heatstroke compared with other non-brachycephalic breeds.
  • If your dog has a thick coat it may be best to give them a trim. Never completely shave your dog as this can leave them even more at risk!
  • Overweight dogs are more prone to heatstroke. Ensure your dog’s weight is healthy so they can regulate their body temperature better.
  • It’s better to use harnesses in the heat as opposed to collars. The pressure collars put on your dog’s neck can make it harder for them to breathe. Brachycephalic dogs will benefit the most. 

Treating Heatstroke in Dogs

If you have started to notice your dog suffering from the symptoms of heatstroke take immediate action. Move them to a cooler environment as soon as possible. Cool them down with water, but not too cold as a sudden change in temperature can cause shock.

Keep pouring the water until their breathing slows down. Not too fast as this could cause your dog to start shivering. Offer drinking water in small amounts to tackle dehydration.

A ventilated area with air-conditioning would be most ideal. If you don’t have access to this, fan your dog instead. The airflow will help with their breathing. Consult your veterinarian immediately. In some cases a trip to the vets is inevitable.

Vets have access to fluid drips that will help lower a dog’s body temperature. Oxygen and medication can also be supplied if necessary. Heatstroke can affect your dog’s organs so blood tests may also be undertaken. 

Dogs can still suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, and confusion even after they’ve cooled down. Keep an eye on your dog for the next 24-48 hours. It’s important to always consult with your vet after your dog has experienced heatstroke, even if they seem fine.

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