Dog Heatstroke Survival Guide
Know how to treat and prevent this
By Robert Newman
I received this information from a Canine Chat Webforum & we have been given permission to include this information on our website.
What is heatstroke?
terms, heatstroke occurs when a dog loses its natural ability to regulate its
body temperature. Dogs don't sweat all over their bodies the way humans do.
Canine body temperature is primarily regulated through respiration (i.e.,
panting). If a dog's respiratory tract cannot evacuate heat quickly enough,
heatstroke can occur.
To know whether or not your dog is suffering from
heatstroke (as opposed to merely heat exposure), it's important to know the
signs of heatstroke.
A dog's normal resting temperature is about 100.5
to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Once a dog's temperature rises above 105 degrees,
physiological changes start to take place, and the dog begins to experience the
effects of heatstroke. At 106 to 108 degrees, the dog begins to suffer
irreversible damage to the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract, heart and
If a dog is experiencing heatstroke, you may observe excessive
panting; hyperventilation; increased salivation; dry gums that become pale,
grayish and tacky; rapid or erratic pulse; weakness; confusion; inattention;
vomiting; diarrhea; and possible rectal bleeding. If the dog continues to
overheat, breathing efforts become slowed or absent, and finally, seizures or
coma can occur.
The amount of damage a dog sustains when stricken with
heatstroke depends on the magnitude and duration of the exposure. The longer and
more severe the exposure, the worse the damage will be.
What to do:
Pay attention to your dog. Recognizing the symptoms of heatstroke and responding
quickly is essential for the best possible outcome.
Heatstroke can be the serious and often fatal result of a dog's prolonged
exposure to excessive heat. Below are the signs of heatstroke and the actions
you should take if your dog is overcome.
Bright red gums and
Standing 4-square, posting or spreading out in an attempt to maintain
White or blue gums.
unwillingness to move.
Uncontrollable urination or defecation.
If your dog begins to exhibit signs of
heatstroke, you should immediately try to cool the dog down:
alcohol to the dog's paw pads.
Apply ice packs to the groin area.
down with water.
Allow the dog to lick ice chips or drink a small amount of
Offer Pedialyte to restore electrolytes
2. Get into the
shade. If you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke, move it into a shaded
area and out of direct sunlight. Apply cool water to the inner thighs and
stomach of the dog, where there's a higher concentration of relatively
superficial, large blood vessels. Apply cool water to the foot pads, as
3. Use running water. A faucet or hose is the best way to wet down
your dog's body. Never submerge your dog in water, such as in a pool or tub -
this could cool the dog too rapidly, leading to further complications, including
cardiac arrest and bloating.
4. Use cool - not cold - water. Many people
make the mistake of using cold water or ice to cool the dog. When faced with a
dog suffering from heatstroke, remember that the goal is to cool the dog. Using
ice or extremely cold water is actually counterproductive to this process
because ice and cold water cause the blood vessels to constrict, which slows
blood flow, thus slowing the cooling process.
5. Don't cover the dog. One
of the keys to successfully cooling your dog is ensuring the water being placed
on the dog can evaporate. Never cover an overheated dog with a wet towel or
blanket. This inhibits evaporation and creates a sauna effect around your dog's
body. Likewise, don't wet the dog down and put it into an enclosed area, such as
a kennel. Any air flow during the cooling process is helpful in reducing the
dog's body temperature. Sitting with the wet dog in a running car with the air
conditioner blowing is an ideal cooling situation.
6. Keep the dog moving.
It's important to try to encourage your dog to stand or walk slowly as it cools
down. This is because the circulating blood tends to pool in certain areas if
the dog is lying down, thus preventing the cooled blood from circulating back to
7. Allow the dog to drink small amounts of water. Cooling the
dog is the first priority. Hydration is the next. Don't allow the dog to gulp
water. Instead, offer small amounts of water that's cool, but not cold. If the
dog drinks too much water too rapidly, it could lead to vomiting or bloat.
8. Avoid giving human performance drinks. Performance beverages designed
for humans are not recommended because they are not formulated with the canine's
physiology in mind. If you can't get an overheated dog to drink water, try
offering chicken- or beef-based broths.
See a veterinarian
dog's temperature begins to drop, cease the cooling efforts and bring the dog to
a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your dog's temperature should be allowed to
slowly return to normal once cooling has begun. A dog that's cooled too quickly
may become hypothermic.
Even if your dog appears to be fully recovered,
the veterinarian needs to check to determine if the heatstroke caused any damage
to your dog's kidneys and liver. The effects of heatstroke can continue for 48
to 72 hours longer, even if your dog appears normal.
William Grant, DVM,
a veterinarian for 20 years and former president of the Southern California
Veterinary Medical Association, has treated hundreds of cases of heatstroke,
ranging from mild to fatal.
According to Grant, the most common cause of
death following heatstroke is disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (blood
coagulating throughout the body), or DIC, which can occur hours or days after
the heatstroke episode.
DIC can also be caused by pyometra or
septicemia, but Grant says heatstroke is the most common cause. "Once a dog
develops DIC, it may bleed in the thorax, abdomen, nose and intestine," Grant
says. "Once the blood-clotting factors are consumed, there is an inability of
the blood vessels to prevent leaking; the condition is almost always fatal." For
this reason, follow-up veterinary care is essential following a heatstroke
episode, even if your dog seems to be completely fine.
Prevention is the
The best treatment for heatstroke is prevention. Especially
during the summer months, it's essential to be aware of the potential for
heatstroke. Knowing the signs of heatstroke, and taking the necessary steps to
prevent it, will ensure your dog can have a safe and active life year-round.