Heat Stroke in Dogs: What You Should Do

by Holly Nash, DVM, MS on July 8, 2010

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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
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting – sometimes with blood
  • Diarrhea
  • Shock
  • Coma

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.

This water-filled Cool Dog Bed offers your pet soothing relief from warmer weather.

This water-filled Cool Dog Bed offers your pet soothing relief from warmer weather.

More Information:

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.
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Related Posts:
5 Ways to Cool Your Dog in Hot Weather
Tips to Prevent Dog Dehydration


About the author: Dr. Holly Nash received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, and a Master's Degree in epidemiology (the study of the transmission, distribution, and control of disease) from the University of Wisconsin. She has worked in a primarily dairy practice, as a veterinary epidemiologist, and as a companion animal veterinarian. Dr. Nash has been with Drs. Foster and Smith since 1998. She has always been interested in the human-animal bond and the education of animal owners, and finds being Editor of PetEducation.com a perfect match. She enjoys and has had experience working with many species of animals, and is a member of the American and Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Associations. See more articles by Dr. Holly Nash.

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Janet July 9, 2010 at 8:57 am

It’s been so hot lately that I don’t even like to take my dog outside until later in the evening. I didn’t realize that you can cool a dog too fast. Thanks for the info.

Joslyn August 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm

I think this is very useful! It has NOT happened to me, EVER, but I agree with the previous poster that it’s been so hot lately that it’s better safe than sorry!. Thanks for this post, I also found this one useful – if anyone’s interested: urban-pet.ca/up/2010/08/heat-stroke-in-dogs/

Cheers :)

Aaron June 7, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I’m amazed at how many times I see runners out with their dogs on a hot day and they are not carrying water for themselves nor their pets. It’s so easy to become dehydrated when you run, and using the excuse the bottle leaves you “off balance” is just weird – stay safe and carry the water especially if you’re bringing your buddy along for the run!

casandra September 10, 2011 at 3:47 pm

thank you!had a bit of an emergency with dog.your advice probably saved his life

Holly R. Nash, DVM. MS September 12, 2011 at 8:00 am

Casandra: We’re happy everything turned out well for your dog! Thanks for letting us know.

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