Heat stroke in dogs

Urgent treatment may be needed if your dog has heat stroke so please contact your vet as soon as possible for advice or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or Vets Now 24/7 hospital.

Dogs don’t tolerate high temperatures as well as humans. Because they only have sweat glands in their feet and around their nose, they are less efficient at cooling themselves down.

As a result, dogs typically rely on panting to keep themselves cool. Panting is one of the most important ways a dog thermoregulates.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a form of nonpyrogenic hyperthermia, which essentially means a high temperature not caused by a fever. It occurs when dogs are no longer able to self-regulate and keep their temperature at a comfortable level.

Which dog breeds are most likely to suffer from heat stroke?

Dogs who are obese or suffer from brachycephalic syndrome — upper airway abnormalities typically affecting flat-faced breeds — are most likely to experience heat stroke.

However, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security if your dog is fit and healthy. All dogs can easily overheat if they’re exposed to hot temperatures and a lack of ventilation and drinking water.

How quickly can a dog die in a hot car?

Dogs die in hot cars. It’s a depressing fact and another reason for a large number of admissions to Vets Now pet emergency clinics and 24/7 hospitals. There is no definitive answer to how long it takes for a dog to die of a heat-related illness but it can be as little as 15 minutes. Just remember, the temperature inside a car on a hot summer’s day in the UK can reach 56C (133F).

What causes heat stroke in dogs?

There are two types of heat stroke — exertional and non-exertional.

The first occurs during exercise and is much more common on hot sunny days when dogs haven’t had a chance to acclimatise to the sudden rise in heat. Dogs can take up to 60 days to acclimatise to significant changes in temperature, which isn’t ideal in the UK as the weather tends to change from week to week.

The second type is when a dog is exposed to a notable rise in temperature but doesn’t have access to the ventilation, or drinking water, to keep themselves cool. This typically occurs in a parked car, a garden with no shade, or a very hot room.

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What to do if you're worried your dog has heat stroke

Call your vet or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic.

Heat stroke takes effect very quickly and is an emergency that requires immediate recognition and prompt treatment. Otherwise, it can result in death. It’s particularly devastating as it’s easily avoided so make sure you know how to recognise the signs.

Detecting heat stroke early and treating it promptly is essential to your dog recovering successfully. As it’s difficult to detect heat exhaustion in the early stages, it’s a good idea to learn how to take your dog’s temperature. You can do this using a rectal thermometer or an ear thermometer, although these can be less accurate if not used properly.

Your vet will most likely try to cool your dog gradually and put him on a drip to replace lost fluids and minerals. They may also instruct you to try to cool your dog down on the journey.

According to one study into heat-induced illness in dogs, those actively cooled before arriving at the vets had a lower mortality rate (19%) than those not cooled prior to arrival (49%). Please do not do this without veterinary advice. For example, never immerse your dog in cold water as this can lead to shock.