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Heat Stroke & Hyperthermia in Dogs: Fast Facts & Safety Tips

When it comes to the heat, dogs aren’t equipped to handle it the same way we are. Additionally, dogs don’t have the words to express that they’re uncomfortable and need to cool off. So, as the temperature continues to rise, it’s vital for dog parents to prepare to protect their puppers from possible heat stroke and hyperthermia. Additionally, all dog parents should know the signs of heat stroke and what to do should their dog’s temperature tip into the danger zone. Knowing the signs and what to do could save your dog’s life.

Understanding Hyperthermia & Heat Stroke in Dogs

A dog panting from hyperthermia

Hyperthermia is an abnormally elevated body temperature. While hyperthermia, in itself, isn’t always dangerous, this term covers all the forms of heat illnesses. The most common health issues from overheating include:

      • Heat cramps: Mild yet painful muscle spasms from exercising in the heat. Often the first sign that the body is struggling to maintain a safe internal temperature.
      • Heat exhaustion: The body’s response to losing hydration due to the heat. Dangerous but not as severe as heat stroke.
      • Heat Stroke: A dangerous over-heated state where the body’s natural mechanisms daily to reduce the body’s core temperature.

Why Is Hyperthermia Dangerous?

Overheating can cause permanent and severe damage to a dog’s organs. Often, the body responds to hyperthermia by increasing body-wide inflammation. This can lead to coagulation problems and damage to the organs. Hyperthermia can also result in death. 

Why Are Dogs Uniquely Prone to Heat Stroke & Hyperthermia?

Unlike humans, dogs cannot reduce their body temperature through a sweat mechanism. While dogs do sweat (contrary to popular belief), their sweat system is not nearly robust enough to cool them down.

Additionally, dogs naturally run hotter than we do. A normal body temperature for a dog is 38.3 to 39.2°C. And a temperature above 40°C is considered hyperthermic.

Finally, dogs wear coats–some dogs more so than others. However, their fur can trap heat in more when the weather heats up.

Recognizing the Signs of Hyperthermia

An Irish Setter panting heavily

It can be difficult to spot the tipping point from “just being hot” to being hyperthermic in a dog. So, it’s best to always exercise caution. 

The first sign a dog is overheating is excessive panting without slowing down. You may also notice your dog seems restless and unable to get comfortable. This can include pacing and seeking out a cooler place to lie down.

Other initial signs of hyperthermia include:

      • Pale gums (sometimes appearing bluish)
      • Shaking and unsteadiness
      • Disorientation

Signs that hyperthermia is progressing to heat stroke include:

      • Collapsing under their own weight
      • Dry gums and tongue
      • Seizure
      • Bleeding
      • Severe lethargy and inability to stand

Preventing Heat-Related Issues for Dogs

Preventing hyperthermia is easy if you know how. As temperatures rise, keep an eye on the forecast, and keep these tips in mind:

      • Switch your dog’s walking routine to early in the morning or in the evening before the temperature rises. 
      • Always bring cool water and a collapsible dog bowl on your walks. 
      • Choose walking routes with shade. 
      • If your dog spends time in the yard, be sure to give them fresh, cool water, and a shaded reprieve from the sun. Check on them often.
      • Do not encourage your dog to exercise during the hottest times of the day.
      • Avoid long hikes during the hottest days of the year. Choose hiking locations with pounds, lakes, or streams where you dog can cool off.
      • Never leave a dog in the car.
      • Wrap a wet bandana around your dog's neck before walks.

How to Help Your Dog: Hyperthermia First Aid

If your dog is overheating, do not delay acting. Minutes, even seconds, could save their life. Studies show that delaying 90 minutes in seeking veterinary care causes a significantly lower survival rate for dogs with hyperthermia.

Cooling Techniques for Heat-Related Emergencies

Dog wrapped in a damp towel

First, begin cooling your dog by bringing them into an air-conditioned location. Wrap them in a damp towel or put them in a cool bath (not cold–this can cause shock and cause the blood vessels to restrict. Soak their armpits, neck, and groin. Do not dunk your dog’s head.

Provide cool (not cold) water.

Call your vet. 

When transporting your dog to the vet, keep them wrapped in a damp towel and keep your car’s A/C on them.

Breeds That Are More Prone to Heat Illnesses

Not all dogs have the same reaction to heat. Some breeds have more trouble handling high temperatures. These include:

Stay Made in the Shade. Don’t Let Your Dog Overheat.

The heat can mean more than just discomfort for most dogs. It can even be life-threatening if left untreated. Stay safe and always plan ahead. As a dog parent, you can protect your dog from the risk of overheating with a few simple precautions. Should your dog shows signs of hyperthermia, remember to act sooner rather than later.