4 Frequently Asked Questions about Heatstroke and Dogs

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By: Dr. Natalie Marks, DVM, Fear Free Certified Veterinarian, in partnership with BISSELL®.

Dogs face weather-related risks in any season. One of the biggest risks dog owners face in the summer months is heatstroke. I call it one of the biggest because if you are not aware of it in time, it can be life-threatening for your dog.

Kids and Dogs

I get asked about heatstroke all the time, especially during the summer months. So, I put together a list of the most-asked questions and the answers I always give, in hopes that it will help you prepare yourself, and ultimately, prevent heatstroke.

1. What puts dogs at risk of heatstroke?

The first and one of the best things you can do to help prevent a deadly heatstroke in your dog is to educate yourself. So, the fact that you’re reading this is great for you and Fido. Heatstroke occurs in dogs when their body temperature hits or goes above 106°F. The risk increases as the temperature goes above that, for example when the temperature gets between 107 and 109°F the risk for multi-organ failure increases.

While every dog is at risk for heatstroke, unfortunately, there are certain breeds, like Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Boxers, and other short-faced breeds, that are more prone to it. There are also other factors that increase dogs’ risk of heatstroke that are not breed-specific. This includes any dog that has a nerve disorder, is obese or has anxiety.

2. How will I know my dog is having a heatstroke?

Because dogs can’t directly tell us their symptoms, when something is wrong with them it can be extra scary. Now that you know what can increase your dog’s risk of heatstroke, it’s important that you know what to look for in your dog during the summer. When dogs overheat, you’ll notice they pant excessively, seem restless, or in some cases, don’t want to move. Dogs suffering from heatstroke may also drool, vomit, have diarrhea, seem clumsy or disoriented, and sometimes collapse. If you notice any of these symptoms, your dog needs your help.

3. What do I do if my dog has a heatstroke?

Of course, the best thing you can do if your dog has a heatstroke is to get them to the vet ASAP, but I also know that isn’t always easy, especially in the summer. So, let’s say getting to the vet is out of the question. What else can you do? There are a few easy things that can help; get your dog to the shade or air conditioning or soak a towel with cold water and put it over your dog’s body, making sure to get his or her feet, face, neck, and under the limbs wet. If you don’t have a towel, a hose works, too.

4. Is there anything I can do to lower my dog’s risk of heatstroke?

Heatstroke is scary and a serious risk, luckily, there are precautions to prevent it before it ever happens to your dog. I always tell pet parents to exercise their dogs either early in the morning or later at night, especially in the middle of summer when it can be the most humid. During those walks, it’s important to avoid hot pavement and give your dog plenty of water breaks and stops in the shade. When you’re not walking your dog, be sure you are not leaving him or her outside for too long and never, ever leave them in a hot car for any period of time.

If you have specific concerns about your dog and a condition he or she may have and how it could contribute to heatstroke factors, don’t hesitate to call your vet and ask – they’re there to help!

About Dr. Marks: Dr. Natalie Marks obtained her bachelor's degree with High Honors in Animal Science from the University of Illinois in 1998, and then proceeded to obtain a Master’s in Veterinary Medicine and Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine degree with High Honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. She sits on the Fear Free Executive Council and is a national educator helping other private practitioners develop these techniques.