Heat Stroke in Dogs

During these hot humid Ohio summer days, I certainly do not feel like leaving my air-conditioned paradise. The thought of having to walk the dogs just down the street a few times a day seems like a chore I would have paid my younger siblings to do. While this is a necessary routine, it is important to remember that even a short walk or leaving a dog in a hot room or car on a hot and humid day can potentially result in fatal consequences.

The most common comment I receive from people who bring in their pet for heat stroke is “He wasn’t outside for more than 20 minutes. How could this have happened?” There are multiple factors that can lead a dog to heat stroke. Let’s focus on the main categories:

  • Breed: The brachycephalic breeds are at the highest risk of developing heat stroke. These are the flatter faced (or smooshed faced) dogs such as pugs, boxers, and bulldogs. However, all dogs are susceptible.
  • Intensity of Exercise: If your pet is only outside for 10 minutes but running and chasing a ball the whole time, he/she can still develop heat stroke. The intensity of exercise is just as important as the duration.
  • Humidity: The humidity is typically a bigger factor than the heat in determining whether pets will develop heat stroke. Pay attention to the daily humidity, not just the air temperature, when you are going to do outdoor activities with your pet.
  • Early signs: Dogs cannot control their body temperature by sweating. The first sign you will see is excessive panting and restlessness. This will further progress to drooling, vomiting, having trouble walking, or blue/purple gums or tongue discoloration. You may also see diarrhea which can sometimes be bloody.
  • Underlying issues: If your pet has underling issues such as laryngeal paralysis, metabolic abnormalities, or obesity, he/she is much less tolerant of heat and humidity than healthy dogs and are more likely to develop heat stroke.

So what can you do at home if you see the above mentioned early signs? Start by cooling your pet by pouring lukewarm (but NOT cold) water on them and getting them into an air-conditioned area or a fan promptly. It is also very important to get him/her to an emergency clinic as soon as possible. At the emergency clinic, an IV catheter and fluids will be recommended. We will also recommend bloodwork and clotting times since there can be severe abnormalities internally including clotting disorders. Prognosis is based on how long your pet had been out in the heat, his/her presenting body temperature, and underlying factors.