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Heatstroke in Dogs

What is Heatstroke in Dogs?

Heatstroke in dogs is the most severe condition among a range of heat-related illnesses. It typically begins with heat cramps, marked by muscle spasms, often due to dehydration and electrolyte depletion. If the dog remains in the heat, it may progress to heat exhaustion, characterized by fatigue, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea, with a normal or slightly elevated temperature.

Transitioning from heat exhaustion to heatstroke involves central nervous system signs like disorientation or seizures, along with a temperature exceeding 104 degrees Fahrenheit and potential multiple organ dysfunction. Heatstroke arises from the body’s inability to cool down, leading to tissue damage, decreased organ blood flow, and potential organ failure.

All body systems can be impacted by heatstroke, including the heart (elevated heart rate), central nervous system (disorientation, seizures), gastrointestinal tract (vomiting, diarrhea, possibly bloody), kidneys, liver, and coagulation system (increased bleeding risk). Additionally, heatstroke damages heat shock proteins, crucial for protecting the body from stress and heat.

Heatstroke can swiftly lead to death, often within an hour, especially if the dog lacks access to shade, water, and rest. It’s an emergency situation, necessitating immediate veterinary attention if suspected.


  • Excessive panting
  • Reddened gums or mucous membranes
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
  • Dehydration
  • Elevated temperature (104°F and higher)
  • Vomiting (with or without blood)
  • Diarrhea (with or without blood)
  • Disorientation or stumbling
  • Weakness or collapse
  • Seizures or potential death


  • Dogs left in cars, even on moderately cool days: Studies indicate that temperatures inside a car can rise by approximately 40°F per hour. Thus, even with an outdoor temperature of 70°F, the interior of a car can easily exceed 110°F. Hence, it’s crucial never to leave a dog unattended in a car, even with partially open windows.
  • Dogs exercising in hot and humid conditions: Caution is essential when engaging your dog in physical activity during summer days. Heatstroke can occur even with short walks. Opt for outdoor activities during cooler times, such as early mornings or evenings, and ensure an ample supply of fresh water.

Certain dogs are more prone to heatstroke, particularly those with:

  • Brachycephalic syndrome (characterized by short noses and flattened faces, such as pugs or boxers)
  • Heart disease
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Obesity
  • Tracheal collapse

Moreover, older dogs face a higher risk, though any dog can suffer from heatstroke. Dogs are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses compared to humans due to their inability to cool themselves by sweating. Their primary cooling mechanism is panting, which is relatively inefficient and can lead to rapid overheating.

Heatstroke cases are more prevalent in Southern states and regions with elevated temperatures and humidity levels. Climate change and extreme weather patterns contribute to an increasing danger of heatstroke.


Diagnosing heatstroke in dogs often relies on factors such as a history of heat exposure (such as being left in a car or excessive exercising), observed clinical symptoms, and a body temperature surpassing 104°F. Gathering a comprehensive medical history to identify any predisposing factors like heart disease, laryngeal paralysis, or tracheal collapse is also beneficial.

Should you suspect your dog is suffering from heatstroke, it’s imperative to contact your veterinarian or local emergency veterinary hospital immediately. They may advise you on initiating cooling measures for your dog before transporting them to the hospital. This step is critical, as pre-cooling your pet has been demonstrated to enhance their chances of survival from 50% to 80%. Proper cooling techniques are essential in preventing further damage.

During cooling, avoid using ice, as it can induce shock (resulting in a drop in blood pressure and further organ damage) and even lead to hypothermia. Instead, aim to relocate your pet to a cool or shaded area, and if available, utilize a fan. Wet your dog with room temperature water and place damp towels on their back while transporting them to the hospital.

Upon arrival at the hospital, the veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination to assess your dog’s mental state and temperature. If cooling measures were initiated beforehand, the temperature may be within normal range and will require careful monitoring to prevent hypothermia.

A comprehensive evaluation, including a complete blood count, serum blood chemistry, and urinalysis, will likely be recommended to establish a baseline. While there may already be elevations in liver and kidney values, ongoing monitoring is advisable.


Upon confirmation of heatstroke diagnosis, your dog will require hospitalization and immediate administration of intravenous fluids to address dehydration. Medications will be administered to alleviate or prevent symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea, and antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection.

Depending on the severity of your pet’s condition, medications may also be administered to manage brain swelling and seizure activity. Additional treatment modalities may involve oxygen therapy, plasma transfusions, and/or anti-arrhythmic medications as deemed necessary.

Throughout the hospitalization period, the veterinary team will closely monitor your dog’s mental status, temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate and effort. Electrocardiogram tests may also be performed as part of the monitoring process. Repeat bloodwork will likely be conducted to track any changes and guide further treatment adjustments.

Living and Management

The early identification and prompt treatment of heatstroke are crucial for a dog’s survival and recuperation. The extent of recovery from heatstroke is directly linked to factors such as the peak temperature reached, duration of exposure, and the speed at which veterinary care was initiated. Severe damage can occur when the body temperature surpasses 109°F, and the prognosis worsens if multiple organ failure ensues.

Most dogs that survive the critical first 24 hours will require hospitalization for 2-3 days, receiving intravenous fluids and supportive care. Upon discharge, they will need ample rest and extra attention, but they typically have the potential for complete recovery and can resume normal activities. Your veterinarian may schedule follow-up bloodwork 1-2 weeks after the heatstroke incident to ensure the proper functioning of all organs.


Preventing heatstroke in dogs is paramount. Consider the following precautions during hot weather:

  • Ensure your pet always has access to shade and water when outdoors.
  • Limit exercise to cooler times of the day, such as early morning or late evening. Even brief walks can pose a risk of heatstroke, especially for predisposed dogs or during excessively hot and humid conditions.
  • Never leave your dog unattended in a car, regardless of seemingly mild temperatures. Even with partially open windows or shaded parking, the interior of a car can become over 40°F hotter than the outside temperature.
  • On hot days, keep your pet indoors with air conditioning, particularly if they have predisposing conditions like older age, brachycephalic syndrome, obesity, heart disease, tracheal collapse, or laryngeal paralysis.

Heatstroke in Dogs FAQs

What should you do if your dog shows signs of heatstroke?

If your dog displays signs of heatstroke, move them to a cool, shaded area, preferably with a fan if available. Initiate the cooling process by applying room temperature water or wet towels onto your dog—avoid using ice. Simultaneously, seek immediate veterinary attention by heading to the nearest emergency hospital.

How do dogs develop heatstroke?

Heatstroke in dogs primarily occurs due to two reasons: being left in cars, even on seemingly cool days, and exercising in hot and humid weather conditions.

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