6 Signs Of Heat Stroke In Dogs

Heat stroke is a serious condition in our canine companions. Most dogs enjoy playing outside in the warm summer sun, so being aware of the possible threat of heat stroke is critical in keeping your pup safe. So what is a heat stroke in dogs, and what are the standard signs?

In this article we will discuss the 6 most common signs of heat stroke in our furry friends, and educate you on proper heat safety going forward.

What Is A Heat Stroke In Dogs?

Before discussing the signs of a heat stroke in dogs, it’s important to understand what a heat stroke is in the first place. You may have experienced overheating or heat exhaustion yourself, but an actual heat stroke in dogs is a bit different. This term refers to a critical condition that can be life threatening if it’s not treated quickly and appropriately.

A heat stroke in dogs is when a dog becomes hyperthermic (has an elevated body temperature) due to exertion or exposure to hot climates. A body temperature above 106 degrees Fahrenheit will set in motion a waterfall of serious complications, resulting in multiple organ failure if their body temperature is not restored to normal.

Even if you are able to return the dog to a normal body temperature, their organs can still be seriously impacted by the drastic body temperature shift. Even short periods of heat stroke temperature can cause serious health complications for the dog affected, making early detection of this deadly condition so important.

Signs of Heat Stroke In Dogs

6 Signs Of Heat Stroke In Dogs

Early detection of a heat stroke is the best way to save your pup from fatal complications. The only way to be aware of a heat stroke in your dog is by understanding the most common signs, so let’s discuss them.

1.) Excessive Panting

Dogs cannot sweat to the extent that you and I can, as they only have sweat glands on the bottom of their paws. Dogs rely on panting to help cool them down, meaning you will often see an increase in panting if a dog becomes too hot.

A small amount of panting is completely normal when a dog is active or in a warm climate, but excessive panting can look a bit different. A dog with excessive panting will likely have their mouth open wide, eyes slightly squinted, will be panting rapidly, and may even pull away from their current activity due to overexertion.

2.) Excessive Drooling

Surprisingly, drooling plays a role in helping a dog cool down. Saliva evaporation can help to pull heat away from the body, meaning a dog will produce more drool if they are becoming overheated. If your dog begins to drool excessively, this may mean that their body is in overdrive when trying to lower their body temperature. Some dogs will drool so much that you see strings of drool hanging from their mouth, and may even begin to soak their chest or paws with drool. 

3.) Lethargy or Weakness

You’ve likely experienced a time in which you became so overheated that you needed to sit down and take a break. This is similar to what happens in dogs that experience heat stroke, only their weakness is often amplified. If a dog is falling into heat stroke territory, they will likely begin to display signs of lethargy or weakness.

This may present as a dog that pulls away from an activity to lay down, laying down and refusing to get up, stumbling or appearing unsteady on their feet, and even collapsing.

4.) Disorientation

When a dog’s body heat begins to rise to a dangerous level, they may experience disorientation or confusion. This may present as being unsteady on their feet, appearing drunk, appearing dazed or unresponsive, not responding to their owners, and other abnormal behaviors. This often occurs once a dog has become extremely overheated, and requires immediate medical attention.

5.) GI Upset

Heatstroke in dogs can cause GI symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. This can be a combination of feeling generally ill due to becoming overheated, or due to actual damage to the lining of their intestines. All GI upset should be taken seriously in this situation, but it’s especially critical if your dog begins to have bloody diarrhea or bloody vomit. This is a sign that your dog has a life threatening clotting complication, and requires immediate medical care.

6.) Serious Signs Of Heat Stroke

The symptoms we mentioned above should always be your sign to make an immediate trip to the vet, but there are a few more serious signs of heat stroke to be aware of as well. These symptoms often occur in the later stages of a canine heat stroke, and indicate fatal complications from high body temperature.

Some serious signs of a heat stroke in dogs include:

  • Collapse
  • Bloody diarrhea or bloody vomit
  • Bloody urine
  • Petechiae on the skin (tiny red spots on the skin or gums)
  • Bruising on the skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Respiratory distress
  • Seizures

The above symptoms are signs of the fatal impacts of a heat strokes in dogs, and require immediate medical intervention when they occur.

What Happens To A Dog’s Body During Heat Strokes?

With working at an emergency animal hospital in Texas for about 5 years, I have unfortunately seen many heat stroke cases in dogs. We typically saw anywhere from 15-30 cases of heat stroke each summer, many of which were severe.

To help you better understand how serious this condition is in our pups, let’s discuss what happens to a dog’s body when they have a heat stroke.

Body temperature plays a huge role in maintaining balance and homeostasis within the canine body. Dogs do not sweat like you and I do, meaning it is much more challenging for them to cool down when they become overheated.

When a dog enters heat stroke level temperatures, their organs are put under extreme stress. Even a few minutes of abnormally high body temperature can damage an organ, leading to a slew of complications to follow.

When a dog’s temperature rises above 106 degrees Fahrenheit, a few things will be set in motion. They will experience a decrease in circulating blood volume (shock), their blood stops clotting properly, their intestinal lining can begin to bleed, their kidney and liver function will begin to decline, and their brain will eventually swell.

While treating a dog quickly can prevent or minimize these complications, they will occur if the dog’s temperature continues to rise without intervention.

The challenging thing about heat strokes in dogs is that each dog will be affected differently. For example, one dog may require aggressive care and multiple days in the hospital, while others will be lucky enough to only face minor complications.

Heat strokes can be unpredictable in the way they impact each dog, making proper monitoring and diagnostics after the fact so important.

Treatment For Heat Stroke In Dogs & What To Expect

When you take your dog to the vet for a potential heat stroke, there are a few things you can expect once they arrive. First, the veterinarian will take your dog’s temperature, allowing them to officially diagnose the heat stroke.

They will likely ask you about what your dog was doing in the hours leading up to their symptoms, determining if they meet the criteria for heat stroke or overheating.

Once your dog is found to be having a heat stroke, your veterinarian will begin to safely cool your dog off. While a high body temperature can be dangerous for your dog, cooling them off too quickly can be dangerous as well.

Not only can their temperature drop too rapidly when cooling them off incorrectly, but they can then drop into hypothermic temperatures. Cooling them down is a craft that your veterinarian will know how to perform.

Once your dog is back into a normal temperature range, your vet will then perform a series of diagnostics to search for any organ damage or medical complications.

These diagnostics will include a full panel of blood work and blood tests to measure their clotting times. These diagnostics can let your vet know if your dog has any evidence of organ damage, as well as if they will require a plasma transfusion if their blood is not clotting properly.

Heat stroke treatment in dogs will vary based on the results of your dog’s diagnostics, and the symptoms your dog presented with.

Some dogs will require plasma transfusions and multiple days in the hospital, while others may just require 24-48 hours of IV fluids and observation.

No matter what the tests show, dogs should always be monitored for at least 24 hours in the hospital. It can take time for their blood work to show evidence of dangerous changes in their health, as well as for certain symptoms to become visible.

Are Some Dogs More At Risk To Heat Stroke?

Some dogs are more at risk of having a heat stroke than others. Ranging from their underlying health issues to their breed, some dog owners need to be more aware of this possible threat than others.

Every dog can fall victim to this deadly condition, but there are some traits that make a dog more susceptible.

Dogs that are most at risk to heat stroke include:

  • Obese dogs
  • Senior dogs
  • Brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced and short muzzles)
  • Long haired dogs or those with thick coats
  • Dogs that live in warm climates
  • Dogs with underlying health conditions that impact their stamina

If your dog falls into any of the categories mentioned above, you should always exercise caution when your dog is exercising or in a hot climate.

What To Do If You Think Your Dog Is Having A Heat Stroke

As we mentioned above, fast action is essential when dealing with heat strokes in dogs. Though the goal is to bring their body temperature down, there are a few safety guidelines to keep in mind.

To help you better prepare for the threat of a heat stroke in your dog, let’s list the steps you should take if your pup becomes overheated.

  • Immediately remove your dog from the hot climate
  • Immediately end any exercise or activity your dog is participating in
  • Call your veterinarian and inform them that you are on the way
  • Bring water with you on the way to the vet, and allow your dog free access to the water
  • Have your car A/C on blast throughout your drive to the vet’s office
  • You can attempt to cool your dog off by running cool or room temperature water across their fur, or wiping their fur with a wet towel

We always suggest contacting your vet once you believe your dog is having a heat stroke, as cooling them too rapidly at home can have dangerous consequences. When dealing with a serious condition like heat stroke, it’s always better to be safe.

Heat Stroke Prevention In Dogs

Heat stroke prevention is one of the best ways to keep your pup safe in the warmer months. Even temperatures as low as 70 degrees Fahrenheit can bring potential danger to active pups, making heat stroke prevention tools something all dog owners should be aware of.

Some of the best ways to prevent a heat stroke in your canine friend includes:

  • Only walking them in the early morning hours or once the sun is setting
  • Keeping all outdoor activity short during warm months, especially if it is 80 degrees or higher or if you have a brachycephalic breed
  • Monitoring your pup any time they are exercising outdoors
  • Making sure your dog always has access to cool water when outdoors
  • Making sure your vehicle has cooled down before taking your dog for a ride
  • Making sure your dog always as a way to escape the heat, whether this is a dog door to come inside, or a shelter that protects them from the sun
  • Keeping your pup at a healthy weight
  • Monitoring your dog closely if they have any underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to heat stroke

Final Thoughts

Heat stroke is a serious threat to our beloved pup’s health. Be sure to review the information we discussed above, and you can keep your dog safe in the warm months to come!

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