Veterinary health spotlight: Heatstroke and dogs

veterinary health information on heat stroke and dogs by Fox Valley Animal Hospital of Wahroonga In today’s veterinary health spotlight, we’re going to take a look at heatstroke and dogs. There are few things that break the hearts of our staff than preventable animal crisis situations leading to the death of an animal. Unfortunately, heatstroke and dogs is one of the situations we dread every time the warmer months approach.

We all know you should never leave your pet unattended in a car, but the message of pet safety on hot days is still being ignored. The fact of the matter is if you get any dog in 35 to 40 degree heat, they can start having problems with breathing, heart, circulation and get very ill very quickly.

Add a naturally active dog or a thick fur coat, and things get seriously dangerous. Labradors, Retrievers, Bulldogs, Pugs and Pekinese breeds are particularly susceptible to heat stroke, but any dog is at risk.

Heatstroke is something all dogs and dog owners need to worry about.

That’s why we’re putting canine heatstroke in the veterinary health spotlight so you can help prevent it.

Your dog can die from heatstroke. And as we always say, prevention is better than cure.

You can minimise your dog’s chance of succumbing to heatstroke with the following:

  • Booking a professional de-shedding session at the beginning of spring and again around Christmas time to reduce the weight of your dog’s coat.
  • Always ensuring cool water is available for drinking and paddling water in a play pool or similar.
  • Preparing ice cubes of water as a cool treat on a hot day. Ice cubes are also great for teething puppies. No need for flavour, water is enough to entice most dogs and puppies.
  • Thinking before you leave your dog alone on a hot day. Places with poor ventilation, without shade, or made from heat retaining materials like asphalt and concrete can be particularly hazardous.
  • Change your exercise routines to cooler times or cooler activities. Swap the runs or the ball toss for swimming or walks, and use the early morning or twilight times for exercise to avoid peak temperatures.
  • Keep an eye on your pet, and don’t be afraid to use a damp towel or pop them under a cool hose or tap to help keep their body temperature at a reasonable level.
  • Never muzzle your dog to groom them when using a hair dryer as your dog cannot pant and therefore, can’t get cool.
  • Avoid hair dryers and heaters of all descriptions with your dog on hot days.
  • Pay close attention to dogs that have existing problems with their heart or lungs, or puppies and senior dogs as they are more likely to face problems with the heat.
  • Always ensure the pavement and roads have cooled sufficiently before walking your dog as these surfaces can retain heat and cause serious burns to your dog’s paws.

AND if you see any signs of lethargy, laboured breathing, body floppiness, rolling eyes or too much panting and lolling tongue and/or reddening mouths, get your dog IMMEDIATELY to the animal hospital.

Riding in cars with dogs

gibson car- heat stroke and dogsVeterinary health practises aren’t just restricted to the home.

Your dog may adore a fun trip in the car, but always ensure it is safe. This includes not only making sure they are appropriately secured with an approved dog seat belt or travelling harness, but also make sure they have appropriate ventilation.

Cars are famous for creating heat stroke in dogs. And with good reason- hot cars can and will kill your dog in a matter of minutes.

Make sure your dog can be reached with cool air from the air-conditioning or from an open window. Your pet should NEVER ride in the enclosed boot of a car, and you should always check to ensure a coupe or station wagon has sufficient airflow to cater to your pet.

And you should NEVER leave a dog or a cat unattended in a car. Not for the milk, not to pick up the kids, and definitely not because you feel lucky and are driving past a casino. Not only is it extremely stressful for the animal to be left in this manner, but the temperature inside a hot car can kill your pet within minutes.

We won’t sugar coat this for you- there isn’t a staff member at this animal hospital who would think twice about smashing a car window in order to get to an unattended dog in a car.

It hurts us as animal lovers and animal healthcare professionals to literally fight against the clock and a pet’s own failing body to save their life.  We’ve endured the pleading eyes of a heat stroke affected pets and it’s truly heartbreaking, especially when the majority of cases are entirely preventable.

It’s a horrible way to get sick and it’s a horrendous way to die.

Heatstroke and dogs: Know the symptoms

Making sure you get your dog to treatment on the onset of heat stroke symptoms is the only way to ensure your dog survives.

You can shine your own veterinary health spotlight on heatstroke symptoms by looking out for the following:

  • Heavy panting and laboured breathing
  • Bright red tongue, gums and/or mucus membranes
  • Dry gums, tongue and mouth
  • A rise in temperature to touch
  • Lethargy and unstable movement
  • Thick saliva
  • Diarrhoea, especially if there is blood in it
  • Vomiting and dry retching
  • A very unsteady, dazed looking dog

These symptoms are extremely serious and should never be ignored. They may appear all together or as a combination of some of them. Regardless, never ignore these symptoms as heat stroke and dogs are far too serious. Get your dog to us straight away!

 The final stages before your dog could die of heatstroke will include:

  • Shock
  • A greying of the lips and mucus membranes
  • The inability to move, walk or hold their head up
  •  Collapse and seizures
  • Coma

Never, ever, ever let it get this far before you call on us please!

The ramifications of heatstroke for a dog

A dog with heatstroke will need constant monitoring, care and gradual cooling to ensure their body temperature is returned to normal with minimal risk to blood vessels and organs. During heatstroke, blood vessels can rupture, leading to internal bleeding. So dogs with heatstroke cases will usually require around the clock monitoring at the animal hospital, until the temperature can be lowered and stabilised at a safe level. We will need to check their temperature every ten minutes.

As heatstroke affects your dog’s breathing, laryngeal edema can result, and may even require an emergency tracheotomy. This is where we bypass the mouth and create an air flow via piercing your dog’s throat and placing a breathing tube to ensure oxygen supply to the brain. If your dog’s heatstroke is this bad, it’s either this, or your dog will suffer brain damage or die from a lack of oxygen.

Kidney failure, internal bleeding through broken or burst blood vessels, irregularities with the heart and seizures also put your dog in serious risk. Any one of these situations can threaten your pet’s life, and while we will do everything we possibly can to save your dog’s life, conditions of these kinds can beat even the most dedicated animal hospital team.

The bottom line on heatstroke and dogs

hot-dogPlease make sure you do not place your dog at risk of heat stroke this season. With hot high winds and soaring temperatures, we need to be especially careful and protective of our animal friends. Always make sure you prevent the opportunity of exposing your dog to heat stroke through a combination of planning and thinking ahead.

And never ignore the warning signs of heatstroke in your dog.


Stay tuned for more veterinary health spotlight topics in the blogs to come. And don’t forget, if you ever need advice on your family pet, we’re only a phone call away on (02) 9489 4805

About the Author
Owner and Vet Alex Brittan, Vet Katie Syms and the team of Fox Valley Animal Hospital pride themselves on quality service. Fox Valley Animal Hospital is the one you choose for your family pet when the care your animal receives really matters.