Why heatstroke in dogs is dangerous

Author picture Jessica

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke or 'hyperthermia' happens when the body's temperature rises well above normal. When a dog is exposed to direct sunlight or poor ventilation, its body temperature will rise rapidly. Unfortunately, heatstroke in dogs can cause internal organ and brain failure.

Dog drinking water from bottle

What are the symptoms of heatstroke in dogs?

The first signs of heatstroke in a dog are panting and a rapid heartbeat. This is because dogs do not have sweat glands like humans, so are unable to lose heat by perspiring. 

A dog’s tongue has a large amount of blood circulating through its surface. Therefore, dogs pant to lose some of their internal body heat and cool down.

If a dog is still unable to cool down and its temperature rises above 40°C other symptoms will appear. These can include: 

  • Red gums
  • Excessive drooling 
  • Excessive drinking 
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Disorientation
  • Lack of balance
  • Seizures 

Once at this stage, the dog is at risk of coma and death.

How to prevent heatstroke?

Prevention is the best way to prevent heatstroke. Here are some tips that will help you get your pooch through the summer heat:

  • Exercise your dog during the cooler hours of the day, such as early mornings and late evenings. The temperature peaks in the afternoon, so plan ahead before going out.
  • Take a bottle of water with you and frequently offer it to your dog. Additionally, grab a portable water container to throw in your bag. Many pets will go hours without drinking water until they are very thirsty. If they drink too much too quickly, they may get sick and vomit. This can cause more dehydration.  
  • If your pet does not want to drink, gently dab water around its mouth, paws and belly. Never use a hard hose or throw buckets of ice-cold water onto a dog. Doing so can result in shock if the temperature changes abruptly.
  • Keep your long-haired dog’s coat as short as possible. This especially applies to breeds with a double coat, such as the Husky, German Shepherd and Malamute. Take your pet to a groomer or ask an experienced grooming pet sitter to assist.
  • Provide access to plenty of shade so your dog can cool down during the day. 
  • Maintain a healthy summer diet for your pet. Also, keep a few full water bowls around and change the water frequently to keep it fresh. You can also offer your dog a frozen toy. To do this, place your dog's favourite toy in the freezer for a couple of hours, or freeze a bowl of water for them to lick.
  • Never leave your dog inside a car, even if you leave the windows open or on a grey day. This is incredibly dangerous and often leads to fatality. 

Dog drinking from water bottle

How to treat heatstroke in dogs?

If you notice that your dog is showing early symptoms of heatstroke, there are a few things you can do:

  • Offer your dog water to drink
  • Take your dog to a dark, ventilated area. For example, you can take them inside your house or the car and turn on the air conditioner or a fan. 
  • Gently dab water on your dog’s paws and mouth. After this, shower them with a gentle hose on their body starting from the belly. Likewise, you can use wet towels or ice packs wrapped in towels against your dog’s body.

Having a digital thermometer handy is a great way to monitor your dog’s temperature. If it reaches 40°C or over, you must seek veterinary help. However, if you do not have a thermometer and you are still concerned, take your dog to a vet anyway. It's best to be safe than sorry.