Beat The Summer Heat: Recognizing, Treating and Preventing Heat Stroke

Overheating in dogs is not something to take lightly. As the weather heats up, it's important to remain aware of how the heat affects your pup. Heat exhaustion in dogs can lead to serious and potentially fatal conditions such as heat stroke and cardiac arrest. To help keep your dog safe and cool during the summer, here is the lowdown on signs that he's overheating and how to prevent it: hint, a little water does wonders for keeping your pup cool.

Unlike people, dogs don't sweat out excess body heat. While your dog does have a few sweat glands located in his paws, these do little to help regulate his body temperature. Instead, he does this through rapid, open-mouthed breathing, called panting. Sometimes panting isn't enough to keep him from getting overheated.

Heat exhaustion in dogs can occur when the body temperature becomes elevated above the normal temperature. This varies slightly, but it's generally agreed that temperatures of 103 degrees Fahrenheit and higher are above normal. If the temperature continues to rise and reaches 106 or higher, your pup is in the danger zone for heat stroke, during which the organs begin to shut down and his heart could stop altogether.

Warning Signs/Symptoms

  • Excessive panting

  • Bright red gums or bluish-purple gums or tongue

  • Pale gums

  • Excessive drooling

  • Vomiting or diarrhea (blood may be in both)

  • Black, tarry looking stools

  • Change in mental status

  • Muscle tremors

  • Seizures

  • Uncoordinated gait (a drunken, dizzy walk)

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Weakness

  • Unconsciousness

Risk Factors

While all dogs are at risk for overheating if the conditions are right, some breeds are more prone to it than others. This includes dogs with thick coats or long hair, very young or very old dogs, and brachycephalic breeds—those with short noses and flat faces, such as shih tzus, pugs, boxers, and bulldogs. Overweight dogs and those that suffer from medical conditions that cause difficulty breathing or heart problems are especially susceptible.

Extremely active dogs and working or hunting breeds (such as shepherds, retrievers, and spaniels) are also at a higher risk, especially during warm months. You should be careful to not push these dogs too hard, so make sure they get plenty of breaks to rest in the shade and that they are well-hydrated at all times.

What to do if your dog is overheated

  1. Immediately move your dog to a cooler area, either indoors where there is air conditioning or in the shade under a fan.

  2. Use a rectal thermometer to check his temperature. Heat exhaustion typically occurs when a dog's temperature falls between 103 and 106 degrees. A temperature above 106 places him at risk for heat stroke. If he's in the danger zone, call your veterinarian.

  3. If you're near a body of fresh water, such as a lake or a baby pool, let your dog take a dip to cool down. Otherwise, you can use cool, wet cloths or towels to help him out. Place your cool wet cloths on his neck, armpits, and between his hind legs, and you can also gently wet his ears and paw pads with cool water. For smaller dogs, use luke-warm water on the cloths.

  4. If he's conscious and willing to drink, give him cool, fresh water. DO NOT FORCE IT!  If he can't or won't drink, or can't keep water down, wet his tongue with water instead. IF YOU FORCE WATER, IT CAN END UP IN HIS LUNGS WHICH WILL POSE A MAJOR PROBLEM CALLED ASPIRATION PNEUMONIA.

  5. Get him to the vet. If you haven't already done so, call ahead so they can be ready to take immediate action as soon as you arrive. This is an emergency situation and you want the veterinary staff to be prepared for you when you arrive so they can be ready to act swiftly.


Using very cold water can actually be counterproductive. Cooling too quickly and especially allowing his body temperature to become too low can cause other life-threatening medical conditions. The rectal temperature should be checked every 5 minutes. Once the body temperature is 103ºF, the cooling measures should be stopped and the dog should be dried thoroughly and covered so he does not continue to lose heat. Even if the dog appears to be recovering, take him to your veterinarian as soon as possible. He should still be examined since he may be dehydrated or have other complications.

NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG IN THE CAR! Temperatures can rise very quickly.

Here's a clip of Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals showing everybody how long can an NFL player tough it out in a hot car.

Also be cautious of walking your dog on the hot asphalt during the warmer months. Studies have show that an outside temperature of approximately 77 degrees F can yield an asphalt temperature around 125 degrees F in direct sunlight. At these temperatures, the paw pads can undergo significant trauma in a matter of seconds to minutes. If you must walk your dog, try to stay on cooler surfaces like grass. You can always check the asphalt by placing the back of your hand on the asphalt for 5 -10 seconds. Even if it feels comfortable to the touch, remain cautious.


Of course, the best cure is prevention. You can help keep your pooch from overheating with some basic safety practices. These include limiting exercise or outdoor activity on excessively hot or humid days, providing plenty of shade and water when your dog is outdoors. For dogs with long hair or a thick coat, consider getting them a short haircut to get through the hot months—just be sure to leave enough fur to protect his skin from the sun.

For dogs that still need to go on walks, consider going on the walk during the cooler hours of the day such as early in the morning or later in the evening. For those high energy dogs that need to exercise, swimming could be a much safer activity. Be sure to keep water with you at all times and schedule frequent breaks for your dog to rest.

It is also a good idea to have a plan in place if your air conditioning were to go out in your home. It can be quite uncomfortable for you but even more for your dog since their natural body temperature runs higher than ours.

Published by Dr. Mason Romero, DVM


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