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Hyperthermia in Dogs

What is Hyperthermia in Dogs?

Hyperthermia in dogs refers to an abnormal increase in body temperature, which can pose serious health risks. Typically, dogs have a normal body temperature range of 102.5-103°F, and anything above this is considered hyperthermia. Elevated body temperatures can trigger systemic inflammation and blood-related complications, potentially leading to organ failure.

When a dog’s body temperature rises, it becomes a critical emergency situation. Immediate action is crucial. If you notice signs of hyperthermia in your dog, contact an emergency veterinarian right away and begin the cooling process:

  • Start cooling your dog while transporting them to the vet.
  • Use lukewarm to cool water to soak the dog, focusing on areas like the groin, armpits, and neck.
  • Avoid using cold water or ice as it can constrict blood vessels and delay the cooling process.
  • Utilize car vents or fans to blow air over the dog’s body.
  • Offer small amounts of cool (not cold) drinking water.
  • Do not submerge the dog’s head in water.
  • Inform the emergency vet about your situation and follow any additional instructions provided.

It’s crucial to act swiftly as hyperthermia can progress rapidly, causing irreversible damage to the body’s systems, often within minutes. Delaying veterinary treatment for more than 90 minutes significantly reduces the chances of survival.


Symptoms of hyperthermia in dogs manifest as severe distress to the body. Initially, dogs may display signs of discomfort such as panting, restlessness, or instability. Other indicators include drooling and changes in gum color, such as blue or bright red.

As hyperthermia advances, additional clinical signs emerge:

  • Collapse
  • Spontaneous bleeding
  • Dehydration
  • Seizures
  • Extreme lethargy, potentially leading to a comatose state

It’s crucial to recognize these symptoms and seek immediate veterinary attention to address hyperthermia effectively.


Causes of hyperthermia in dogs typically fall into two categories:

  • Infections, such as bacterial or viral infections, can induce a fever, leading to a rise in the body’s core temperature as a defensive mechanism.
  • External conditions contribute to hyperthermia when factors hinder the body’s ability to dissipate heat effectively, resulting in an escalation of body temperature.

Common external conditions triggering hyperthermia include:

  • Heatstroke, which commonly occurs in hot and poorly ventilated environments, particularly during the summer months. Heatstroke can manifest either without exertion, known as non-exertional heatstroke, or following strenuous physical activity, termed exertional heatstroke.
  • Malignant hyperthermia, a rare reaction to anesthesia or certain medications, characterized by increased muscle contractions and breakdown, leading to elevated body temperature.
  • Toxicity from substances like hops, excessive thyroid hormone, or compounds inducing seizures can also provoke hyperthermia.

Hyperthermia is more prevalent during hot and humid weather but can occur in any environment at any time. Risk factors include:

  • Brachycephalic breeds (e.g., Pugs, English Bulldogs, Boston Terriers)
  • Overweight dogs
  • Dogs with respiratory conditions like laryngeal paralysis or obstructive airway disease
  • Age, with both young puppies and senior dogs at higher risk
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Thick hair coats
  • Exercise-induced heatstroke, which is more common in young male dogs
  • Certain breeds may be genetically predisposed to malignant hyperthermia, including St. Bernards, Labrador Retrievers, Greyhounds, Border Collies, English Springer Spaniels, Irish Wolfhounds, Cocker Spaniels, Doberman Pinschers, Siberian Huskies, and Pointers.

Dogs are susceptible to hyperthermia when confined in enclosed spaces like vehicles or kennels, or during excessive exercise in hot or humid conditions, such as hiking or jogging with their owners. Since dogs regulate body temperature primarily through panting, breeds with flat faces, like Pugs, may struggle to dissipate heat efficiently.

It’s essential to note that neurological damage can occur at temperatures above 105.8°F, while temperatures surpassing 106.7°F can lead to cellular death, and temperatures exceeding 109°F are often fatal.


Veterinarians typically suspect hyperthermia in dogs based on their behavior, physical state, and medical history. Confirming the diagnosis involves taking the dog’s temperature rectally.

Following confirmation, veterinarians proceed with ordering various tests to assess the severity of damage. These may include a complete blood count, serum blood chemistry, and urinalysis to establish a baseline assessment. Veterinarians monitor these tests before, during, and after the resolution of clinical symptoms.


Effective treatment of hyperthermia in dogs involves safely cooling the dog before reaching the veterinary hospital, which significantly enhances the chances of survival.

During transit to the veterinarian, initiate cooling measures cautiously. Avoid using cold water or ice as they can constrict blood vessels and hinder the cooling process. Instead, utilize lukewarm or cool water, along with car vents and fans. Focus on soaking the dog in water, particularly around the groin, armpits, and neck, while ensuring the head is not submerged. Offer small amounts of cool drinking water and contact the veterinarian for further instructions en route.

In most instances, hospitalization is necessary. Once under veterinary care, dogs experiencing respiratory distress may require oxygen supplementation or intubation. Sedatives might be administered to alleviate their fear and panic, which can exacerbate body temperature elevation.

Additionally, intravenous fluid therapy is essential for hydration and medication delivery. Treatment strategies vary depending on the severity and clinical manifestations and may include:

  • Glucose supplementation
  • Antibiotics
  • Gastrointestinal protectants
  • Administration of blood products for bleeding disorders
  • Cardiac medications
  • Pain management drugs

Mild cases of heatstroke caught early may resolve within the same day, while severe and complicated cases typically necessitate hospitalization with close monitoring. Normalizing body temperature halts ongoing cellular damage, but resolving existing injuries requires time and comprehensive veterinary care. Veterinarians continuously monitor vital signs, including temperature, pulse, respiration, and coagulation parameters, alongside other blood work to assess organ function until they return to normal levels.

Living and Management

Regrettably, due to the seriousness of hyperthermia, the prognosis remains uncertain. Approximately half of hyperthermic patients either succumb to the condition or are euthanized. Treatment is both costly and demanding, often requiring hospitalization lasting from 1 to 6 days. Dogs presenting with low blood sugar, coagulation abnormalities, cardiac irregularities, or kidney damage have a diminished likelihood of surviving until discharge. Surviving the initial 3 days following the incident enhances the chances of patients returning home.

Following discharge, pet owners are strongly advised to prevent their dogs from overheating again. This may entail using additional fans or air conditioning and never leaving dogs unattended outdoors. It’s crucial for pet owners to ensure a quiet and conducive environment at home while their dogs are recuperating.


Preventing hyperthermia in dogs primarily involves avoiding situations where heat can become dangerously elevated. Never leave your dog in a car or enclosed space, as even on milder days, temperatures inside a vehicle can soar by up to 40°F within an hour. When temperatures are high, limit outdoor activities to short durations and schedule exercise during the cooler early morning or late evening hours.

Ensure your dog has constant access to water, especially in warmer weather, and closely monitor those who have previously experienced heatstroke. Discuss with your veterinarian the ideal weight for your dog, as obesity increases the risk of hyperthermia. These precautions are particularly crucial for brachycephalic breeds but apply to all dogs.

Early identification of hyperthermia symptoms is vital. If you suspect your dog is experiencing hyperthermia, contact your veterinarian promptly and initiate cooling measures. Owners of breeds prone to malignant hyperthermia should consult their veterinarian regarding genetic testing as an additional preventive measure.

Hyperthermia in Dogs FAQs

What are the indications of hyperthermia in dogs?

The primary signs include panting, restlessness, and potential collapse.

Is it possible for a dog to recover from hyperthermia?

While dogs can recover from hyperthermia, timely intervention is essential for their survival.

What factors can initiate hyperthermia in dogs?

Heat, humidity, and excessive physical activity are the primary triggers for hyperthermia in dogs.

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