Are you as excited for summer as I am?

Summer brings more opportunity for outdoor activities for you and your dog. There’s swimming, hikes, water sports, dog parks, days spent in the backyard and more.

As more opportunities for more fun with your dog arrive, so do the possibilities of illness or injury.

One common summertime emergency that I see in the ER is heatstroke. Let’s learn about heatstroke so that you can prevent it from happening to your dog.

How Heat Can Hurt Your Dog

What Exactly is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke is a condition that is triggered by high or humid temperatures and may be brought on more quickly if exertion or stress is involved. The body temperature elevates because the body cannot dissipate heat effectively.

Many of the heatstroke cases that I see are because dogs are left in cars or owners exercise their dogs during the hottest time of day.

Dogs should never be left in cars, even on mild days. When left in a car on a relatively cool (70 °F) day; a recent study from Stanford University Medical Center found the temperature within a vehicle may increase by an average of 40 degrees Fahrenheit within 1 hour, regardless of outside temperature.

Who Is at Risk?

All dogs have the potential for heatstroke during the hot summer days.

Certain breed types are more vulnerable to the heat due to their conformation. Brachycephalic breeds are defined by a short-muzzled dog with a flattened face. Since their noses and upper airways are so short, they can’t exchange heat the way dogs with longer snouts can. Examples of brachycephalic breeds include but are not limited to French bulldogs, English bulldogs, boxers, pugs, cavalier King Charles spaniels, and Boston terriers.

Other dogs that are more prone to over-heating include geriatric dogs, dogs with chronic disease, and dogs that are obese.

Symptoms of Heatstroke

The dog’s body temperature reaches over 104 °F and is followed by disorientation, excessive panting, drooling, agitation, and restlessness followed by collapse. The tongue may be hanging out to one side and may have a purple tinge to it. The gums may become bright red. It is imperative to recognize these symptoms and take immediate action.

If the symptoms are not addressed immediately then coma, bloody diarrhea, and eventually organ failure and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) will occur. DIC is a condition in which your dog’s body responds to severe inflammation by producing clots, which in turn use up the body’s platelets. Also, clotting factors can be destroyed directly by thermal injury. Meanwhile, impaired protein synthesis by the liver contributes to decreased clotting factor production. Lack of clotting capability results in bleeding. Once this stage is reached, it is very difficult to get a patient back.

As an ER veterinarian, I see heatstroke patients weekly during the summer months. This condition is life-threatening, and some patients do not survive. This is completely preventable by making smart decisions for your dog this summer.

Prevention of Heatstroke

Prevention of HeatstrokeSteps to Prevent Heatstroke This Summer

  • Avoid exercising your dog during the hottest hours of the day. During the warmer days, I recommend that you walk your dog very early in the morning and late in the evening. I often see people walking or jogging with dogs in the heat of the day, and it makes me crazy. This greatly increases the risk of heatstroke in your dog.
  • Be sure your dog has access to plenty of shade and cool water if outdoors.
  • Keep your dog in air conditioning during the hottest times of day, especially if the humidity is high.
  • Do not leave your dog in the car for any period of time.
  • Take extra caution if your dog is brachycephalic, geriatric, obese, or has a chronic illness.
  • Get your dog in shape. As you work on your beach bod, get your dog in shape as well. Obesity predisposes dogs to heatstroke. Also, drop the highly processed kibble and switch to a whole food diet.
  • If your dog has brachycephalic syndrome, consider a consultation with a board certified surgeon to check out options to help your dog breath better before the heat arrives.

Recognize Early Symptoms

  • Excessive, loud panting
  • Tongue hanging out one side without control
  • Excessive froth/drooling
  • Restlessness
  • Bright red or purple tinged gums
  • Reluctance to walk
  • Stopping during a walk and trying to find shade to lay down

What to Do if Your Dog Demonstrates Symptoms

  • Stop playing/walking immediately and get them in the shade.
  • If there’s no vomiting, and they are conscious, offer cool water to drink.
  • On the way to the vet, run the A/C in the car on high.
  • If your dog is severely affected, dunk them in the cool water or wet down with the hose.
  • Don’t cover your dog in a wet towel, as that can insulate and keep heat in—cool running water is best.
  • Make sure they have shade and fresh water if left outside.
  • Most importantly: Head to the vet as fast as you safely can.


Heatstroke TreatmentWhat to Expect If Your Dog Needs to Be Hospitalized for Heatstroke

  • Cooling therapy is initiated immediately. This consists of running cool water over the patient. We want to be careful not to cool the core body temperature too quickly because it can lead to DIC-disseminated intravascular coagulopathy and organ failure.
  • IV catheter is placed, and IV fluids are given rapidly to aid cooling and manage the dehydration.
  • Injectable antibiotics and gastrointestinal protectants will be administered.
  • Blood work, urinalysis, and clotting factors will be tested.
  • Blood pressure and cardiac monitoring will be recommended.
  • If CNS symptoms such as seizures or coma are noted, then a medication called mannitol may be administered to treat suspected cerebral edema. Oxygen will also be administered to support the brain.
  • If the coagulation test is abnormal, then a plasma transfusion may be necessary.

If you take precautions, you can safely enjoy the summer activities with your dog. Be smart, listen to your intuition, and don’t take chances when it comes to your dog’s safety.

Happy summer, friends!