Is Your Dog too Hot? How to Tell if Your Dog is Overheating

Expert Advice

Summer is in full swing and while most of us are enjoying the sun our pups might not be. Hot weather can lead to heat related issues in your dog – do you know how to recognize the signs of overheating and are you prepared to take action?

Hyperthermia can happen for a number of reasons.  It can be brought on by environment, genetics, physical predispositions or even illness (e.g. fever).  It can be brought on by a number of causes including, but not limited to, hot environments (worsened with humidity), physical activity, confinement to a vehicle or tethered in direct sun. Your pet may also be predisposed – Brachycephalic breeds (pugs, bulldogs, boxers), young dogs, senior dogs, sporting or working dogs, obese dogs, pregnant dogs, dogs with upper airway pathology, dogs not acclimatized to hot weather, dogs that have had heatstroke before, dogs with heart disease or neuromuscular disease are all examples of dogs that are more susceptible to heat related issues. There are often a number of stages your pup would go through

  • Heat stress – the beginning level, often where you see early warning signs and where early intervention is most effective.
  • Heat exhaustion – more serious level where intervention is required.  If your pup suffers from heat exhaustion you should strong consider going to your vet
  • Heat stroke – the most serious and life threatening, it is imperative that you immediately get your dog to the vet.  If your vet is not open please go to an emergency clinic.

Typically a dogs normal body temperature will range from 38°C to 39°C and it is generally accepted that any temperature above 39.5°C requires action.  A temperature of 40°C or above being considered an emergency and 41°C has the potential to damage of the thermoregulatory center.  Temperatures of 43°C is considered serious and significant heat injury and your animal is at risk of death.

Photo credit: Cait Clawson @redfordtheredheeler

Recognize the signs.  More often than not your pup is pretty good at letting you know they’re overheating, you just need to know what to watch for.  Key early warning signs /signs of heat stress or heat exhaustion include:

  • Stressed out
  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Seeking shade or coolness
  • Increased thirst
  • Weakness or anxiety
  • Increased heart rate

If these signs are missed it can progress to heat exhaustion or heat stroke:

  • Vomit
  • Stress diarrhea
  • Red gums or pale gums (indicates shock)
  • Blue gums (visit your vet IMMEDIATELY)
  • Shock
  • Respiratory distress
  • Blood in vomit or diarrhea
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Ataxia (walking drunk)
  • No urine output
  • Respiratory or cardiac arrest

Take action quickly.  If your dog is showing signs of heat stress or heat exhaustion early recognition may be the thing that saves their life.  Once you’ve recognized the signs, there are a few ways to help them cool down.

  • For early stages / heat stress
    • Get them in the shade
    • Let them rest
    • Give them something to drink
    • Douse their body in water
  • More aggressive tactics for heat exhaustion
    • Immerse their body in cool-cold water
    • Place ice packs on their head
    • Use convection cooling by using a fan on wet body
    • A less effective option is to douse feet with alcohol
    • Bring your pup in to your vet to make sure that your methods have been effective
  • For heat stroke make attempts to cool your pup down but also get to your veterinary clinic for intravenous fluids and proper monitoring of systems

It is extremely important that you monitor body temperature if you’re cooling using cold water or convection cooling or anything aggressive. If you have managed to successfully cool your pup down stop treatment once their body temperature reaches 39.5°C, as continuing leads to a large risk for hypothermia and can be much harder to reverse We can not stress enough how serious this condition may become, prevention is the best action.

Want to know some tips and tricks to avoid overheating?  Check out our post on How to Keep your Dog Cool in the Summer.

Photo credit: Jenna Hollman @atlastheadventuredog

Huge thank you to @emmainthewild for helping us with the technical knowledge in this article.

Disclaimer: The advice we offer above is based on our own personal experiences, research, and talking to professionals but every dog is unique and what works for one may not work for another.  If you have any specific concerns about your dog please talk to your vet.

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