Beware the Sun: Heatstroke in Dogs – What to Do and How to Prevent It

July 22, 2019

Beware the Sun: Heatstroke in Dogs – What to Do and How to Prevent It


We all love dogs! It’s an understatement really. Dogs are a source of joy for us. We don’t see them as pets but more like family members. Whether you are a rescuer or a dog lover, we believe it is important to be equipped with basic first-aid knowledge in dealing with emergency situations related to dogs. One of those situations is the grossly underestimated but deadly heatstroke.


Heatstroke – How Does It Happen?

Beware the Sun: Heatstroke in Dogs – What to Do and How to Prevent It

Summer in most countries evokes images of beach vibes, lazy days, and margaritas. But it can be very harsh for our four-legged friends. It’s all fun and games until heatstroke happens.

What is canine heatstroke? It happens when the dog’s natural ability to cool itself down fails and body temperature increases drastically. A normal dog temperature is between 100 – 102.5 degrees F. When it reaches above 106 degrees F, that calls for immediate veterinary assistance.

During a heatstroke, the cells of the body rapidly start to die. Seizures happen, as the brain starts to swell. They can develop ulcers due to the lack of blood supply to the gastrointestinal tract.

Heatstroke is preventable but if unchecked, it can have adverse effects on your dog’s health, or can even be fatal. It is a slow and agonizing way to die. No responsible pet owner wants this.


How Do Dogs Regulate Body Temperature?

How Do Dogs Regulate Body Temperature?

When us humans sweat, I was told we sparkle. Sweating is our way of regulating body temperature. But dogs aren’t like people. Sure, our pets can sweat, but not like we do. We can perspire in almost all areas while they only sweat on areas not covered with fur, like the nose, or paws. Basically, they are intolerable of heat. Their furs are one of the factors. Can you imagine having a thick coat you can’t take off? That’s how it is for them. Now how do they regulate temperature? They regulate temperature by vasodilation and panting.

Vasodilation, or dilation of the blood vessels, brings hot blood directly to the surface of their skin. It allows blood to cool first before it returns to the heart. This is considered only as a secondary way for them to regulate temperature.

Panting is another way of dogs regulating their temperature. Panting in dogs can mean they are excited, hot, or both. It is their primary way of regulating body temperature. It allows them to evaporate moisture from their tongue, nasal passages, and the lining of their lungs. However, excessive panting is not normal. It is one of the signs of heatstroke. You can always tell if the panting is abnormal. It is usually louder, harsher. It can be observed that dogs take extra effort when there is excessive panting. Think of it as a human becoming breathless.


Signs of Heatstroke

Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs

Some breeds are more prone to heatstroke more than others. Among these are overweight dogs, older dogs, breeds not used to tropical climate, breeds with lots of fur or thick fur, and brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, and French Bulldogs.

Panting is just one of the signs of overheating. It helps to be aware of the other signs as well. They are as follows:

  • Heavy panting or breathing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Glazed look
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Excessive thirst
  • Bright or red tongue
  • Dry, red or pale gums (pale gums indicate shock)
  • Increased pulse and heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Uncoordinated movement, staggering, or general weakness
  • Loss of consciousness


What to Do When Heatstroke Occurs

When your dog overheats, your quick response can spell the difference between life and death. If you are certain, and all the boxes are ticked (please refer to the signs above), keep your wits about and don’t panic—your pet’s life depends on you.

What to do when heatstroke occurs

Tips to Prevent Heatstroke

Prevention is always better than cure. At this time and age, every pet owner can be smart and proactive. These tips are meant to be first aid measures only, and should not a substitute for veterinary advice. Dogs suffering from heatstroke should be taken to the vet as soon as possible. Here are some tips to avoid heatstroke and help your dog keep their cool:

How to prevent heatstroke

Dogs are generally protective of their owners. It is essential that we return the favor by caring for them and adapting basic safety measures. Fun under the sun is possible with our four-legged friends—it can be a walk in the park!