Heat-Related Illnesses
(Heat Stroke, Heat Exhaustion)

Information compiled by
Guardian Angel Pat Barrett

Heat Stroke

Caring pet owners already know how dangerous it is to leave their dogs in the car. However, leaving pets outdoors or in hot, unventilated, indoor places on hot summer days can also be extremely dangerous. What people forget is that their dogs cannot handle the heat the same as humans do. Dogs do not have sweat glands as humans do, except for a few on their feet. They do not perspire and can only rid their bodies of heat by panting, which is not enough when the temperature soars.

This is especially true with brachycephalic (dogs with short, flattened noses), such as Boxers, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, Pekinese, etc. And animals’ fur coats retain heat, making warm temperatures even more uncomfortable. This can cause them to suffer more quickly from heat stress. Dogs with heavy coats, heart or respiratory troubles, those who are exercising too much in the heat, as well as overweight, very young, infant, and elderly dogs all need special consideration in the heat and have a greater likelihood of developing heat stroke.  Heat stroke occurs when normal body mechanisms cannot keep the body's temperature in a safe range.


*A rapid or erratic heartbeat/pulse

*Rapid breathing, or struggling for breath

*Exaggerated panting, or the sudden stopping of panting

*Increased, excessive, loud, heaving, irregular panting or the sudden stopping of panting

*A very high body temperature - usually, cell damage begins to occur at body temperatures over 106 degrees

*Excessive drooling, or frothing at the mouth

*Dark red gums


*Barking or whining

*Anxiety or agitation



*Incoordination - stumbling and/or trouble standing or walking

*An anxious, vacant, or staring expression

*Listlessness or weakness

*Shaking or seizures

*Collapse or unconsciousness

Other signs of heat stroke can include some or all of the following:

*Dry mouth and nose

*Lack of urine production

*Weakness and muscle tremors

*Dryness and redness (or dull grayish-pink or blue) of the inside of the tongue, mouth, lips and gums and gums - OR -

*Drooling and excess salivation

*Glazed eyes and/or dilated pupils

*Difficulty standing or walking

*Vomiting and/or diarrhea

Animals showing these signs need immediate medical treatment, so take the dog to a veterinarian or animal emergency room as soon as possible. If your pet starts to retch and vomit, this can be a sign that the body temperature is reaching 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Soon after, the dog will go into shock, followed by possible seizures and a loss of consciousness. These are all serious signs and the dog must see a veterinarian immediately. This is an EMERGENCY! Even at the earliest stage of heat stroke, you may be fighting for your dog's life. If not treated immediately, these symptoms can be followed in minutes by collapse, seizures, coma, and death. You must get your pup to a veterinarian as soon as possible.   If untreated, SEVERE HYPERTHERMIA (heat stroke) results in kidney, liver and/or heart failure. Dogs who are treated after a significant delay may survive, but could be left with permanent effects such as blood clotting disorders, metabolic abnormalities, muscle damage, and/or brain dysfunction, etc.

This is a life threatening situation and needs immediate veterinarian attention. There are a few things you can do if your vet has to call you back or on the way to the veterinarian's office or emergency room:
1) Immediately move the dog to a cooler area. Place the dog in a shady area or put a large umbrella over him/her.
2) Offer the pup small amounts of water (too much water may cause the dog to vomit and add to your pet’s dehydration).
3) If the dog will not drink of his/her own accord, then wipe the mouth area with a clean, wet cloth.
4) Sponge down the whole body, including tummy and groin area with COOL, not cold water. Cold water will cause blood vessels to constrict and will stop the heat from escaping. This could send your dog into shock from the sudden drop in body temperature.  NEVER throw buckets of water over the dog, or throw him/her into cold water, as these actions will almost certainly put the dog into shock, making the situation far worse than it already is!
5) If you do not have an electric fan, improvise one with a towel or something that will cause a draft around the wet dog; however, do not do anything that might panic him/her unnecessarily. Fanning the dog will help to cool him/her through the process of evaporation. If the dog has collapsed, continue with the above steps until professional help arrives. Be prepared to carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should it become necessary. The dog needs electrolyte replacement and oral replacement is not sufficient. The electrolytes need to be replaced through intravenous (IV) administration. 



Heat Exhaustion

Heat Exhaustion occurs with exercise, particularly on hot, humid days. The symptoms are similar to those of  heat stroke, but may not be associated with an elevation in body temperature, as is the case with heat stroke.

*Heavy panting

*Dog begins huffing and puffing or gasping for air

*Dog begins to weave when s/he walks because of dizziness

*Dog lies down or collapses and cannot get up

*Dog becomes unconscious

*Collapse or fainting

*Mentally dazed


*Muscle cramps (seizure-like tremors)

*Abnormally rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing

*Muscle weakness

Depending on the seriousness of the situation, these are the steps an owner should take if his/her dog is suffering from heat exhaustion:
1) Move the dog out of the sun and into the shade or into an air-conditioned building or follow the instructions for shading the dog, as directed above in "Heat Stroke."
2) Give the dog water to drink, but do NOT allow the dog to drink copious amounts.
3) Rinse the dog off with cool water, either in the bath tub or with a garden hose.
4) Place the dog in front of a fan while still damp.
5) Place ice bags around the dog's head and neck. You may also apply them to the groin area for rapid blood cooling.
6) Take the dog to the veterinarian only after the dog has been cooled down. Take your dog's temperature; this should be done rectally to get the most accurate reading.
7) Prepare your dog for transport to the nearest emergency animal clinic. Do NOT cover your dog, even with a cold towel. A towel will prevent the heat from escaping. A cold washcloth on the tummy is fine.


HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR DOG IN HOT WEATHER:   *Walk your dog in the early morning or evening when it is cooler.   *Provide constant access to fresh water.   *If possible, keep your dog indoors in a cool, well ventilated or air-conditioned part of the house.   *Air conditioning is one of the best ways to keep a dog cool, but is not always dependable. To provide a cooler environment, freeze water in soda bottles, then wrap them in a towel or tube sock. Place them on the floor for the dog to lie on. You may also place ice and a small amount of water in several resealable food storage bags, cover them with a towel, and place them on the floor for your dog to lie on.   *If you do not have air-conditioning, place a wet towel on the floor, (or use ice bags as explained above), or purchase a cooling pad for your dog to lie on.   *You may want to invest in a "Cooling Jacket" for your pet to wear in hot weather or in unavoidable situations where your dog must be in hot temperatures.  If your pet is outside during the day, consider investing in a Cooler Mat or a Cooling Bandana (they can be purchased from "Drs. Foster and Smith" or many pet supply sources).   *Do not leave your dog in the car, muzzle or confine him/her without shade or confine him/her to concrete or asphalt surfaces.   *If your dog lives outside, make sure s/he has plenty of fresh, water, and that his/her house or bed is in the shade. For an outside dog, an automatic dog waterer is a good way to provide clean fresh water.   *If your dog must be outside on a leash or cable, be sure it is long enough for your pup to reach full shade and that there is nothing for the leash or cable to become entangled in. You do not want to prevent your pup from reaching his/her shade and water!   *After walks, or when your dog seems warm, wipe down the fur with a washcloth or towel rinsed in lukewarm water. Wring the cloth out just enough to keep it from dripping, and soak down the fur of the head, inside the ears, above and under the neck, on the tummy and groin, and on the tops and bottoms of the feet.   *Keep pets with breathing problems indoors.   *Wetting down your dog with cool water or allowing him/her to swim can also help maintain a normal body temperature.

*Avoid taking your dog in the car with you. If you are accustomed to letting your dog accompany you in the car, do not feel guilty about leaving your pet behind on hot summer days. Your dog will be much happier and safer at home with shade and plenty of fresh cool water. No one should EVER leave a pet in a vehicle - no matter how briefly they intend to be away. Temperatures inside a parked car can rapidly reach dangerous levels, even on relatively mild days, and even if the car is parked in the shade with the windows slightly open. Dark-colored cars especially can become very hot inside - even on days that do not seem too hot to take your dog along. In just minutes, the temperature inside a parked car can climb to well over 120 degrees or more. Even a short time in a hot environment can be life-threatening.

Dogs with moderate heat stroke often recover without complicating health problems. Severe heat stroke can cause organ damage that may need ongoing care such as a special diet prescribed by your veterinarian. Dogs who suffer from heat stroke once increase their risk of getting it again and steps must be taken to prevent it on hot, humid days.

The above information was compiled using the following resources:






Additional References:
Animal Hospitals USA, as taken from “Harper’s Illustrated Handbook of Dogs,” HarperCollins Publications.
Animal Protection Institute, Sacramento, CA 95822.