12 Signs Of Heat Stroke In Dogs (+Prevention & Home Treatment)
May 29th, 2020
Table of Contents
During the hot summer months, everybody’s pumped up and itching to get outside. Chances are, you’ve filled your schedule with dog-friendly beaches, road trips, and the like.
And while looking out for the signs of heat stroke in dogs isn’t on your to-do list, it really should be!
Because frankly, the summer heat is torturous for many dogs.
With their fur coats and bare paw pads, most dogs are better suited to handle the cold than the heat.
And because heat stroke can strike so suddenly if you’re not paying attention, we thought we’d spend the time today to talk all about the 12 major signs of heat stroke in dogs.
What Is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke is a condition caused by your dog’s body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures.
In doctor-speak, it’s also known as hyperthermia.
When Is It Considered Heat Stroke?
Okay, so heat stroke is just fancy for overheating. But how hot is too hot?
Well, the normal dog body temperature is around 101ºF to 102.5ºF (38.3ºC to 39.1ºC). Note that this is a tad higher than the normal body temperature in humans (around 98.6ºF or 37ºC, though new studies suggest humans have been “cooling off”).
This suggests that a temperature of more than 103ºF (39.4ºC) is abnormal for dogs, and is considered a fever.
When body temperature reaches as high as 106ºF (41.1ºC), that’s when we’re in heat stroke territory.
At 107ºF to 109ºF (41.7ºC to 42.8ºC), there is potential for multiple organ failure, and impending death.
That’s why it’s so important to keep an eye on your dog when it gets hot.
Why Are Dogs Particularly At Risk?
We humans regulate our internal body temperature by sweating. But our dog’s bodies aren’t covered in sweat pores like ours.
Apart from a few sweat glands on their paws, dogs primarily cool themselves off through panting .
Panting helps dogs evaporate and expel moisture from the mouth and lungs. This is made tougher in hot and humid conditions, typical of summer in many parts of the world.
Other dog characteristics, such as having a thick coat or short-snout (brachycephalic), can make regulating body temperature even tougher.
A number of health conditions, including obesity, also contribute to higher risk.
And unfortunately, perhaps the main reason why dogs are at risk is irresponsible dog ownership.
Even as I walk along the streets in Seattle, people are still leaving their dogs in cars. Rolling the windows down a few cracks doesn’t help, people!
Others are still letting their dogs roam outdoors in the extreme heat, with inadequate access to shade and water. Know when you and your dog should stay indoors!
How Deadly Is Heat Stroke?
As we’ve seen, at 106ºF (41.1ºC), there is the potential for multiple organ failure. Some other serious problems associated with heat stroke include seizure, coma, permanent brain damage, kidney failure, heart attacks, arrhythmia, and even death.
Moreover, even at temperatures leading up to heat stroke, your dog is in trouble.
Excessive panting, for instance, can lead to respiratory muscle fatigue and a variety of heart-related injuries.
One study which took a look at 54 dogs reported that all of them who suffered a heat stroke had abnormal swelling or hemorrhages in their lungs.
All this to say, heat stroke needs to be taken seriously. Dogs need to be rushed in a vet the moment they show preliminary signs of heat stroke.
Heat Stroke By The Numbers
The stats are kind of murky, but as of March 2020, one source reports that the number of dogs and other animal companions who die from heat-related causes since 2018 is 114.
I believe this number is underreported, given that so many dogs are brought into the emergency room each year with heat stroke.
Also, the majority of heat stroke cases go unreported. Thus, no official statistic exists on how many dogs die of heat stroke each year.
But the good news is, heat stroke is 100% preventable in all cases. We’ll discuss preventative measures later in this article.
12 Signs Of Heat Stroke In Dogs
Let’s first dissect the various signs and symptoms of heat stroke in dogs. Here they are in a nutshell:
- High Fever
- Excessive Panting Or Difficulty Breathing
- Excessive Drooling
- Increased Heart Rate
- Bright Red, Gray, Purple, Or Blue Gums
- Bright Red Tongue
- Agitation & Restlessness
- Lethargy & Weakness
- Glazed, Sunken Eyes; Muscle Spasms
- Dizziness, Confusion, Staggering
- Vomiting Or Diarrhea, Often With Blood
- Muscle Tremors
1. High Fever
The first sign is the obvious sign. If you have a way to tell that your dog’s body temperature is higher than normal, that’s the clearest possible indication of heat stroke.
And the most direct way to tell is by using a thermometer. Here’s one by iProven that gets you a Fahrenheit reading in just 10 seconds.
Simply take a rectal measurement: anything above 103ºF means you should monitor your dog closely for other symptoms.
(And yes, you can use a regular thermometer on your dog. Just make sure you designate one for pets only.)
The Dry Nose
Let’s talk a bit about the dry nose. It’s common to hear that a dry nose means a sick dog. Is this a fact or a myth?
Well, the occasional dry nose isn’t an issue. In fact, you’ll notice that your dog’s nose is usually dry right after waking up.
But most of the time, if your dog is out and about, they’ll prefer to have their noses nice and moist.
If in this case, their nose is still dry, it could mean your dog has a high fever and is dehydrated.
So it’s more accurate to say that a persistently dry, hot nose can be a sign of heat stroke in dogs.
2. Excessive Panting Or Difficulty Breathing
Under normal circumstances, a panting dog can take around 300 to 400 inhalations and exhalations per minute.
After you remove your dog from the heat (say you just returned from a walk), your dog may continue panting. But usually they’ll cool off within 15 to 20 minutes or so.
If your dog is panting abnormally fast (hyperventilating), or is panting excessively, this is another clear sign of heat stroke.
Identifying Abnormal Breathing
Abnormal breathing is usually characterized by choking, snorting, or rasping sounds.
Under normal circumstances, your dog’s breathing should be at around 25 to 40 inhalations and exhalations per minute, and never appear labored.
In any case, you likely know what “normal panting and breathing” looks like in your dog. It’s important for you to recognize anything unusual, especially on hot days.
3. Excessive Drooling
Because dogs open their mouths to pant so much (and because many dogs have loose upper lips), they tend to drool a lot.
However, there’s that type of normal, healthy drooling, and then there’s excessive drooling–hypersalivation.
Excessive drooling is a consequence of excessive panting, but be sure to also note the quality of the drool.
If the drool is thicker and sticker than usual, that’s a red flag.
4. Increased Heart Rate
As your dog continues panting, it’s normal for their heart rate to increase as well. However, if your dog’s pulse gets faster without slowing down for long periods of time, this is a sign of heat stroke.
A typical heart rate for large dogs is between 65 to 90 beats per minute, and 90 to 160 beats per minute for smaller dogs.
To get an accurate count, vets recommend feeling the beat near the inside top of your dog’s hind leg. Of course, you can also place your hand over your dog’s chest.
Simply count the number of beats in 30 seconds, and double that.
5. Bright Red, Gray, Purple, Or Blue Gums
A healthy dog will have salmon pink gums. Any other color, and your dog is probably sick or suffering from dehydration.
One of the colors to watch out for is bright red. Bright red gums could signal inflammation in the gums, or overheating.
A bluish purple tinge is another warning sign. This usually signals a problem with oxygen circulation in your dog’s body, which is exacerbated by heat stroke.
Your dog’s gums may also appear pale or gray. Any color besides salmon pink should be examined at the vet, even if the root cause is not heat stroke.
6. Bright Red Tongue
Likewise, a healthy dog will also have a pink tongue.
The tongue can also change color depending on your dog’s health. A yellow, orange, white, or blue/purple is not normal and should be looked at by a vet.
Specifically for heat stroke, you’ll want to watch out for a bright red tongue. This can indicate inflammation or infection, but also dehydration and overheating.
7. Agitation & Restlessness
When there’s something going on with our dogs, sometimes we just can’t quite put a finger on it. They’re acting strange: they “ain’t doin’ right” (ADR in vet speak).
Many times, your dog shows this with agitation and restlessness.
For Yuna, she’ll whine and whimper and pace around the room when something’s up. Through experience, I’ve learned not to ignore those signs.
It’ll be the same with your dog. If they’re anxiously pacing around the room, unable to settle, this could be another sign of heat stroke.
8. Lethargy & Weakness
On the other hand, maybe your dog is acting more tired than usual.
If your dog is normally excited for that walk, and yet appear lethargic or apathetic when you bring out the leash, this could be a sign of heat stroke or something more serious.
Again, you know your dog best here. Learn to identify when they’re not acting quite like themselves.
9. Glazed, Sunken Eyes; Muscle Spasms
It turns out that our dogs’ eyes have a retractor muscle in the back. When that muscle experiences spasms, it can cause the eye to appear sunken.
While muscle spasms aren’t a direct result of heat stroke, experiencing one during a heat stroke is very dangerous.
Due to the increased muscular activity, muscle spasms elevate your dog’s body temperature and make it harder for him to naturally regulate.
Your dog may need a little extra help in cooling himself off. Consider our home treatment steps later on in this article.
10. Dizziness, Confusion, Staggering
Dizziness and confusion are natural consequences of the light-headedness that comes with overheating.
If you notice your dog unable to walk in a straight line, or has a lack of coordination, they may be dehydrated. Get them out of the heat, cool them off, and provide fresh water ASAP.
11. Vomiting Or Diarrhea, Often With Blood
Severely affected dogs with heat stroke can exhibit vomiting and diarrhea, which is often watery and may contain blood.
It’s been shown in studies that heat stroke can affect blood flow, particularly in the nervous system. This can lead to gastrointestinal upset, which causes vomiting and diarrhea.
This is perhaps one of the most severe signs of heat stroke in dogs.
12. Muscle Tremors
We previously talked a bit about muscle spasms, but tremors are different.
While a muscle spasm is the involuntary constriction of a muscle, a muscle tremor will make your dog appear as if they’re shivering, even if it’s very hot.
Any abnormal muscle movement should set off alarm bells.
Preventing Heat Stroke In Dogs
Now that we’ve covered 12 of the most common signs of heat stroke in dogs, let’s talk about the greatest cure of them all–prevention.
Leaving Your Dog In A Parked Car Is A Sin
Never leave your dog in a parked car. Even if you park in the shade and roll down the windows, this barely does anything on a hot summer day.
On a mild 80ºF (26.7ºC) day, in the sun, the inside temperature of a car reaches 100ºF (37.8ºC) in just 10 minutes, and up to 115ºF (46.1ºC) in 30 minutes.
So don’t leave your dog in a car, even if it’s for a short while.
Constant Access To Fresh Water
Keep your dog’s water bowl clean and filled with fresh, cool water at all times.
If you can, turn on the air conditioner and any fans to regulate the temperature. Otherwise, make sure your home is well-ventilated.
Be Prepared For Walks
On longer walks, make sure you bring water. We highly recommend lesotc’s Pet Water Bottle–it’s so convenient, doesn’t involve spills, and can surprisingly hold more water than you’d expect, while still being lightweight.
For your walk, choose a route with lots of shade, so you and your dog can take a break if needed.
Avoid The Hottest Times Of Day
In general, you should walk your dog in the early morning or evening while the sun isn’t in full force.
It’s not just the hot temperatures that can overheat your dog–the ground temperature is equally dangerous.
The surface temperature of concrete cement, for instance (which is what most sidewalks are made of), can hit temperatures as high as 125ºF (51.6ºC) on a 95ºF day (35ºC).
We talk all about whether it’s too hot to walk your dog in this article–be sure to check it out.
Home Treatment For Heat Stroke
Say your dog is showing symptoms of heat stroke. This section will teach you how to safely cool your dog down at home.
Please note that you should only do this if your pet’s condition is not critical (i.e. body temperature is 106ºF or under).
This means that you have taken your dog’s temperature and have an accurate reading. And that your dog isn’t exhibiting any serious conditions like vomiting blood, seizures, or coma.
Otherwise, follow these steps for a home treatment for heat stroke.
Water Is Your Friend - Spray
Some dogs hate water, but it can save an overheating dog.
Start with just spraying your dog with cool water to get them used to being a little wet. Be sure to hit key areas like the underarms, behind the ears, and groin area.
Oh, and have you noticed that dogs like to paw at their water bowl when it’s hot? Applying some water to the paw pads can also help reduce their body temperature.
In milder cases of heat stroke, this may be sufficient in getting them to cool down, provided they are completely out of the heat and have access to fresh water.
Use Soaked Towels - Wrap
For quicker cooling, soak some towels in cool water (not icy cold), and wrap them around your dog.
The towel should go between their front and hind legs, and wrap around their body. It should cover their armpits to the groin area.
You can use another towel to dampen other parts of your dog, primarily their ears, head, and paws.
Use Your Tub - Immersion
To cool your dog off even faster (and for the water lovers out there), fill up your bathtub with cool water (not icy cold), and immerse your dog in water.
We recommend you use your bathtub because we know that’s indoors and out of the heat. We don’t recommend using a kiddie pool because that usually involves being outdoors.
Continue To Monitor Your Dog
After your dog’s temperature returns to normal (under 103F), be sure to dry them off again. This is important, as no dog should be left wet for too long.
Continue to keep your house air conditioned and cool.
Ensure that your dog no longer displays any of the other symptoms related to heat stroke. You may still choose to see a vet just in case.
In this post, we’ve covered one of the more dangerous conditions your dog could be faced with in the summer.
We took a look at 12 of the most common signs of heat stroke in dogs, and covered prevention and home treatment steps.
Hopefully, everybody gets to enjoy their time this summer with their dogs doing fun outdoor activities, while also keeping an eye out for these signs!