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Heat stroke in dogs

Black pug dog who is hot advice

Wetting a dog can help to cool it down

© Shutterstock

A hot and sunny day can be a nightmare for your dog, so it's worth reading about how best to avoid heat stroke.

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS

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Just like people, dogs can get heat stroke. One of the most common causes of this is leaving your dog in a car on a hot or sunny day. The outside air temperature does not need to be that high for the car to become very warm when it is sunny, because the glass windows act as a greenhouse and trap in the heat. Even leaving your pet in the car for a few minutes can be very dangerous. Also remember that dogs are only able to sweat from their footpads, and will pant to try to help regulate their temperature.

Other causes of heat stroke in dogs include being outside in the garden without adequate shade and water or exercising when it is too hot. Anxious or excitable dogs might be more prone, as are dogs of certain breeds, such as brachycephalics (including pugs, boxers and bulldog breeds) or thick-coated breeds. Older pets can also be more easily affected.

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If you think your pet might have heat stroke, move them to a cool, shaded area with water available and contact your vet immediately.

Heat stroke vs heat exhaustion in dogs

Heat exhaustion technically is the step before heat stroke and is milder. Despite this, people often confuse the terms. If your pet has mild heat exhaustion (excessive panting and thirst) that resolves within half an hour, they are unlikely to need medical treatment as long as they do not continue to show other symptoms. However, if they show any of the more severe symptoms of heat stroke listed in this article, then it is an emergency and veterinary care is needed as soon as possible.

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What are the signs of heat stroke in a dog?

In addition to increased panting and thirst in your pet, you may see drooling, breathing difficulties, dizziness, lethargy, confusion, nausea, loss of appetite, restlessness, vomiting and diarrhoea, and what many owners describe as their dog ‘acting weirdly’. Your pet may have bright red gums or tongue, or very pale gums. The condition can also progress to seizures and collapse.

How long does heat exhaustion last in dogs?

In mild heat exhaustion you can see significant improvement within half an hour. If not, or your dog’s condition worsens, it is a veterinary emergency. Moderate or more severe heat stroke can take longer to recover and is sometimes fatal. Sometimes a dog will seem better initially, but can become ill again over the next few days due to the after-effects of heat stroke on their internal organs. They may require a blood test to determine the extent of the damage.

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How do you treat heat exhaustion in dogs?

Bring your dog into a cool, shady area with plenty of cold water to drink. You can dampen them down with cool (not ice cold) water. Avoid laying a wet towel over your dog, as this will gradually warm up and will block the cooling affect of the evaporation. You can also place a fan in the room.

If your dog is showing signs of heat stroke, you will not be able to treat this at home and should contact a vet.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk

Can a dog survive heat stroke?

Yes, dogs can survive heat stroke and make a full recovery, but there may be lasting damage if it is severe. Seeking veterinary treatment as early as possible can help to limit the long-lasting impacts. Sadly, heat stroke can cause death.

Does wetting a dog cool it down?

Wetting a dog can help to cool it down, but do not continue if it is causing distress to your dog, as this will affect their breathing.

Talk to a vet online. Visit myfamilyvets.co.uk

Some links in this article will redirect you to My Family Vets website.

Ask for advice

Worried about your pet?

Speak to a qualified vet online, from the comfort of your home