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What is it?

Heatstroke occurs when a dog overheats. This can result from hot, humid weather, overexertion, or being confined in a space with poor ventilation such as being left in a car, conservatory or outbuilding on a hot day.

Why is it important?

Heat stroke in dogs can be fatal, and it is an emergency situation. Dogs pant to try and lose heat as they cannot sweat, but this limits how much heat they are capable of dissipating. An extreme rise in body temperature can cause swelling of the brain, and damage to internal organs such as the brain, liver, gut and kidneys. Organ damage typically starts at body temperatures greater than 42 degrees centigrade (normal is about 38). The dog’s blood can clot in the blood vessels causing fatal organ damage, a syndrome called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulopathy (DIC).

Very young and very old dogs may be less able to cope with heatstroke. Some breeds of dog for example flat faced breeds such as Pugs or Bulldogs may be less able to cope with hot weather, as their ability to lose heat by panting is reduced. Obese or overweight animals are more at risk, and dogs with underlying breathing problems.

How does the vet know what is going on?

Your vet will examine your dog, and ask questions relating to the onset and duration of illness, and any exposure to extreme temperatures.

Signs of heatstroke in dogs:

  • Rapid, intense panting and signs of discomfort
  • Heavy salivation or foaming at the mouth
  • Bright red gums (mucus membranes)
  • Bruising or red spots on gums or non-pigmented skin
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Vacant expression
  • Collapse

  • What can be done at the vets?

  • Cooling - fans, evaporative cooling using cold water, cold water enema, ice packs over areas where there are large blood vessels such as groin, neck, armpits. Great care must be taken not to drop the body temperature too rapidly as this can cause the dog to go into shock. The aim is to reduce the body temperature to normal over about an hour
  • Placing the animal on damp cool towels. Cool towels can be applied but not for longer than 10 minutes as they can act as an insulator and prevent heat loss
  • Blood tests are taken to assess for organ damage. If there are signs of abnormal bruising or bleeding, a blood clotting profile may be run
  • Fluid therapy (usually an intravenous drip) to support organ function and correct dehydration and fluid loss
  • A steroid injection may be given as an anti-inflammatory
  • Temperature monitoring every 10 minutes, intensive nursing care
  • The dog should start to recover within 12 hours. There may be ongoing weakness and dullness for several weeks after the initial heatstroke episode.

    Organ damage and clotting disorders such as DIC can mean that the dog will not recover.

    How can I protect my pet?

  • Ensure your dog is never left in a car on a hot day, even for short periods of time. Even when the car is parked in the shade or with the windows down, the RSPCA state that even on a day where the weather is 22 degrees a car can heat up to 47 degrees inside within an hour. The same applies to leaving dogs in conservatories, caravans or outbuildings.
  • Ensure if the dog is kept in a kennel environment that it is not in direct sunlight and has adequate ventilation
  • Avoid high intensity exercise in hot weather
  • Pet safe sun cream can be applied to exposed skin
  • Ensure plenty of water and shade available
  • Provide damp towels or cooling mats to lay on
  • Ice cubes can be placed in your dog’s water bowl, but avoid giving large chunks of ice as dogs that like to chew can damage their teeth
  • Keep your dog at a healthy weight as being overweight can increase the risk of heatstroke
  • Walk dogs early in the morning or later in the evening on hot days when it is cooler
  • If you see a dog in distress in a car on a hot day, do not attempt to enter the vehicle, instead ring 999 for police assistance