Heatstroke in dogs: Q&A

We might love the long hot days of summer, but warmer weather means an increased risk of heatstroke for our dogs. We answer your questions on everything from the warning signs of heatstroke to what to do if you think your dog has developed it.

Dogs aren’t as good as humans at regulating their body temperature – so in warmer weather, heatstroke is a real risk. A serious condition that requires urgent vet treatment, it’s important to understand why it happens, the warning signs to watch out for and how to treat it.

Heatstroke – sometimes called heat-related illness, sunstroke, hyperthermia or heat exhaustion – happens when dogs get so hot they can no longer lower their body temperature by panting or sweating (through their paw pads). A dog’s normal body temperature should be around 38–39°C (100.4–102.2°F), but when this rises above 40°C (104°F), heatstroke can occur.

Every owner should know the danger signs that suggest their dog may be overheating. Symptoms of heatstroke to look out for include:

  • Heavy panting
  • Excessive dribbling or drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Gums that are either bright red or very pale
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Breathing problems
  • Stiffness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Collapse
  • Seizures

You know your dog best, so if you’re worried about your dog overheating – even if their symptoms don’t exactly match the above – it’s always best to consult your vet.

Research shows the top three cause of heatstroke for dogs in the UK are:

  • Exercising in hot weather
  • Being unable to cope with hot weather due to age or breed (older dogs and brachycephalic breeds are particularly vulnerable)
  • Being left in a hot vehicle

The risks of heatstroke increase when a dog doesn’t have access to shade or water – but if their body temperature has risen enough, they can develop heatstroke even in the shade, or with plenty of water on hand.

While any dog can potentially develop heatstroke, some dogs are at higher risk than others, including:

Research shows that certain breeds are at a higher risk of developing heatstroke, including:

Heatstroke is a medical emergency, so always contact your vet for urgent treatment. Follow their advice, which may include taking steps to reduce your dog’s temperature at home before travelling to the clinic. You could try:

  • Moving your dog indoors or somewhere cool and shady.
  • Restricting any more exercise.
  • Pouring or sponging cool water (15–16°C; 59–60.8°F) over your dog’s body – avoid their head, and concentrate on their stomach, inner thighs and neck.
  • Encouraging your dog to lie down on a cool floor.
  • Allowing them to drink a small amount of water.
  • Setting up a fan to help them cool down.
  • Placing them in an air-conditioned room.

Note: It’s no longer recommended to cool your dog down by placing wet towels over their body, as this can end up trapping heat.

When you get to the vet, your dog may need additional treatment, including fluids, oxygen and medication. If left untreated, heatstroke can cause organ failure and even death – so the quicker you recognise the signs and seek vet help, the more likely it is your dog will make a full recovery.

Most dogs are comfortable in temperatures up to 25°C (77°F), meaning heatstroke is most likely to occur when the temperature rises above that, usually during the late spring and summer (in the northern hemisphere, May through to August). But heatstroke can happen at any time of year, and the conditions that might trigger it vary between dogs, depending on factors including their age, fitness level, breed and size. For instance, overexertion on a warm spring day might induce heatstroke in one dog, but not another – and a healthy dog that’s recently moved from a cooler climate to a warmer one might struggle more than another dog of a more susceptible age or breed.

Helping your dog stay as cool and comfortable as possible will minimise the risk of them developing heatstroke. Follow our tips for keeping your dog safe and cool in the summer, such as:

  • Going for walks in the morning or evening when it’s cooler, or skipping walks altogether for some fun summer activities.
  • Always providing plenty of shade and water.
  • Never leaving your dog in a vehicle, even for a short time.
  • Keeping your dog hydrated.
  • Offering your dog some tasty frozen treats.
  • Buying a cooling gel mat, or giving your dog a damp towel to lie on.
  • Adding ice cubes to your dog’s water bowl.

As well as adapting their routine during the warmer months, it’s important to keep a close eye on your dog, so if they’re exhibiting any of the signs of heatstroke above, you’re able to act promptly and seek vet help.

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