Any dog that cannot cool himself off is at risk for heat stroke. Although you need to cool your overheated dog, using very cold water can actually be counterproductive. Be careful to not cool your dog too quickly. Let’s take a closer look at heat stroke in dogs including signs and what you should do if you suspect your dog has heat stroke.
Heat stroke occurs when normal body mechanisms cannot keep the body’s temperature in a safe range. Animals do not have efficient cooling systems (like humans who sweat) and get overheated easily.
A dog with moderate heat stroke (body temperature from 104º to 106ºF) can recover within an hour if given prompt first aid and veterinary care (normal body temperature is 100-102.5°F). Severe heat stroke (body temperature over 106ºF) can be deadly and immediate veterinary assistance is needed.
Signs: A dog suffering from heat stroke will display several signs:
- Rapid panting
- Bright red tongue
- Red or pale gums
- Thick, sticky saliva
- Vomiting – sometimes with blood
What you should do
Remove the dog from the hot area immediately. Prior to taking him to your veterinarian, lower his temperature by wetting him thoroughly with cool water (for very small dogs, use lukewarm water), then increase air movement around him with a fan. CAUTION: 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.
Allow free access to water or a children’s rehydrating solution if the dog can drink on his own. Do not try to force-feed cold water; the dog may inhale it or choke.
For more information on heat stroke in pets, including what a veterinarian would do and prevention tips, see the full article Heatstroke (Hyperthermia) on the Drs. Foster & Smith PetEducation.com educational website.