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Dog heat stroke happens when your dog gets too hot and his body isn't able to cool itself effectively.
Heat stroke in dogs is also sometimes referred to as heat exhaustion, and the correct medical name for it is hyperthermia.
Even though it's caused by your dog being too hot, heat stroke is not the same as a fever and is not caused by illness, but by external temperatures.
A dog's normal body temperature is around 101F.
When your dog's core body temperature is forced to rise above that and reaches 104F, heat stroke begins to occur.
A core temperature of 106F or higher in dogs is likely to be fatal.
Dogs can't sweat the way we do and their body's cooling systems are not very efficient.
The only way for them to cool down is by panting, or by evaporation from the only sweat glands they have... which are on the bottom of their paws.
The most common cause of heat stroke in dogs are:
* Even if he has access to shade and water, it's still perfectly possible for a dog to get heat stroke if he is outdoors for an extended period when it's hot.
There are a lot of symptoms that occur when a dog is suffering from heat stroke.
Some of them are easy to see, some are not.
If you're in any doubt about whether or not your dog is in heat-related trouble, take his/her temperature right away.
Time is an absolutely crucial element in heat stroke recovery and can mean the difference between life or death for dogs with heat exhaustion.
Most common signs of heat stroke in dogs:
Once heat-stroke has become severe there are major reactions in your dog's body including internal bleeding, heart arrhythmia, clinical shock, organ failure and heart failure.
These are very likely to lead to death.
Heat stroke in dogs can often be treated successfully if it's recognized early enough and treated promptly.
The key is realizing what is happening before your dog's core body temperature gets too high and starts to cause serious, life-threatening complications.
If his temp is between 104 and 106 faranheit taking the right measures quickly will most likely save the day.
Anything above 106F can cause irreversible damage to multiple bodily systems and lead to death, but that doesn't mean that there's no hope.
Here's how to treat dog heat stroke by cooling Fido down the RIGHT way:
The very first thing to do is to move your dog from the sun into a shady spot, preferably where there is a breeze or at least free-flowing air.
The shade given by trees is several degrees cooler than the shade given by buildings so if there are trees so much the better.
If you can get him indoors into the A/C and into a bathtub or shower that's great but don't stress him out if it's too much for him or he's not familiar with doing that.
It's important to know just how over-heated your dog is and the only way to do this properly is to take his temperature rectally.
BUT.. don't leave him lying/sitting there overheating while you run around looking for the thermometer.
If possible have someone start the next step of cooling him with water while you go find a thermometer, or vice versa.
If this isn't possible, choose cooling him first and once you feel that's well under way then you can find time to find a thermometer and take his temperature.
You want to aim to take his temperature at roughly 5 minute intervals.
Once your dog's temperature reaches 103 you can stop with the cooling efforts, dry him thoroughly and cover him with a dry towel or light blanket so that he doesn't get chilled.
It's a delicate balance for sure.
Water is a must when you're trying to cool a dog with heat stroke.
It needs to be COOL (not cold) water.
Cold water will make his situation worse, it needs to feel cool on your skin.
A garden hose is the best option but watering cans or even buckets of water poured slowly over him will all work.
Soak him down and fan him if possible to make sure air is moving over his skin.
A box fan, hand-held fans, or anything which creates a draft can be used.
Do NOT drape him with wet towels or blankets as this will stop the water from evaporating and cooling him, making things worse.
Keep the water flowing and the air moving as much as possible.
You can soak cloths or towels in cool water and hold them against his tummy and inside thighs where the skin is mostly free of hair and the cool water will get to his blood vessels more easily.
If your dog can stand, encourage him to do so and to walk slowly (support him and stay close by in case he gets dizzy or weak).
This will help keep his blood circulating and air moving around him and both will speed cooling.
Remember not to walk him away from the shade, fans or breeze!
During this initial cooling period take his temperature every five minutes or so and if it drops to 103F then you need to stop with the water, dry him off thoroughly and drape a dry towel or light blanket over him.
This will stop him from getting chilled and prevent his body temp from continuing to drop.
If your dog is suffering from heat stroke, chances are good he is also dehydrated.
This is a serious condition in itself, but the over-heating of his core temperature is more critical so that needs to be dealt with first.
Once you've started cooling your dog down and his body is responding then it's important to try to get him to drink a little COOL water (not cold).
He'll probably be very thirsty, and if he's able to drink he may try to gulp as much down as possible. Don't let him.
Monitor his drinking and allow him to drink a little, then take a break for a minute or so, then allow him some more.. and continue like that.
If you let him guzzle too much water it could make him vomit which will make the dehydration worse.
It could also cause canine bloat, which is a potentially fatal condition where the stomach 'flips' over.
A dog with heat stroke needs to be seen by a veterinarian urgently for evaluation and further help.
Your vet can continue the cooling process, monitor temperature, check blood values, evaluate dehydration and test things like kidney and liver function and look for signs of any potential serious (but possibly invisible) damage.
When you head off to the vet the best way to travel is with a wet dog and the A/C running.
You can protect your car with plastic sheeting or black trash bags and towels, but it's important to keep your dog cool as you transport him.
All the steps above are what you need to do to treat a dog with heat stroke at the time it happens.
After-effects of heat stroke in dogs can last for 48 - 72 hours.
Your dog needs to be monitored by your vet and undergo certain tests during that time period.
If the heat stroke was severe and not caught early enough, irreversible damage is a potential complication and symptoms of this can take hours, or even days, to appear.
After severe heat stroke organ damage is a real possibility and it may need ongoing treatment.
A serious complication of heat stroke is a blood clotting disorder called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulopathy (aka DIC).
DIC causes spontaneous, internal bleeding which the dog's body can't control as the blood doesn't clot properly.
Immediate veterinary care may be able to stop the bleeding, but DIC caused by heat stroke is often fatal.
The best way to prevent heat stroke in dogs is simple - make sure they don't have the opportunity to become overheated.
Although ANY dog can get heat stroke/heat exhaustion if allowed to get too hot, some breeds are at a higher risk and have a lower tolerance for heat due to certain physical traits.
Dog breeds which are especially sensitive to heat include:
The dogs in the above list are just a few representatives of the breeds who can overheat more easily.
Any dog who is brachycephalic (ie has a short muzzle), is big and heavy, has a thick coat or is black or dark colored is also at higher risk.
But please remember, ANY dog of any size/shape/coat/color WILL suffer from heat stroke if they get too hot.
So, let's make sure to keep our dogs safe. Here's how to achieve this even in the hottest summer....
Never leave your dog outside for more than a few minutes when the temperatures are high.
Some dogs can tolerate upper 80's Fahrenheit for short periods as long as there is shade and water available.
If it's over 90F no dog should be outdoors for more than a few minutes.
Many of the dogs on the list above cannot.
Obviously our dogs need exercise even in summer, but there are ways to make sure this exercise is safe when it's hot.
Safe hot weather exercise for dogs:
Something else to remember is that if it's hot outside then the ground will be hot too.
Our dogs don't generally wear shoes to protect their feet and their paw pads can get badly burned from walking on hot concrete or asphalt.
You can test the temperature of the ground by holding the back of your hand against it.
If it's too hot for you to keep your hand there for more than a few seconds, then it's too hot for Fido to walk on.
Here's a graphic which shows you just how incredibly hot the ground can be during the summer...
The precautions don't stop when Fido comes indoors either.
After an outdoor play/walk in hot weather, make sure your dog can continue to cool down indoors.
Have the A/C running, give him access to a room with tiled floor whenever possible, this is a nice cool surface to lie on.
Box fans or ceiling fans which keep air moving are also great.
Although hydration alone can't prevent heat stroke in dogs, it's always important to keep your dog well hydrated, especially when the weather is hot.
Plenty of water helps his organs to work at optimal levels which is always a plus.
Cool, fresh water should be available for your dog 24/7
Every single year numerous dogs die from heat stroke after being left in their owner's car during warm (it doesn't have to be hot) weather.
These deaths are totally unnecessary and an agonizing way for a beloved pet to die.
This graphic illustrates the dangers very clearly...
Bottom Line: Never, ever leave your dog in your car when it's warm, hot or even just sunny, outside.
Dog Health Information
Dog Heat Stroke Guide