Heat stroke in dogs.

Heat stroke in dogs.Picture c17b

It’s difficult for dogs to deal with heat, even at a temperature of 22-25˚C (~71-77˚F) they will reduce their physical activity and look for a cool spot. A high ambient temperature can be very dangerous for dogs because unlike humans they cannot perspire and consequently regulate their body temperature. Dogs don’t have sweat glands with the exception of a few on the underside of their feet and on the front of the nose, but these are not sufficient to keep their body cool. Their body temperature is mainly regulated by panting. By panting they can lose a lot of moisture and this moisture IMG_0002needs to be replaced regularly to ensure that the increase in body temperature doesn’t overtake the release of body heat. At a temperature of 28-30˚C (~82-86˚F) this mechanism starts to fail and the body temperature will rise. If the ambient temperature then overtakes the compensation limits of the dog, the dog will rapidly overheat.

Every year it happens again; dogs in the summer getting left in the car. Maybe at first the car is in the shadow, but this will change quickly because the sun is turning. People do not realise just how fast temperature rises in a car, even if the windows are slightly open.

There is a table below which will scare you.


Outside temperature             Temperature in the car

after                                           5 min.   10 min.   30 min.   60 min.

20 º                                            24 º       27 º         36 º          46 º 

22 º                                            26 º       29 º         38 º          48 º

24 º                                            28 º       31 º         40 º          50 º

26 º                                            30 º       33 º         42 º          52 º

28 º                                            32 º       35 º         44 º          54 º

30 º                                            34 º       37 º         46 º          56 º

32 º                                            36 º       39 º         48 º          58 º

34 º                                            38 º       41 º         50 º          60 º

36 º                                           40 º       43 º         52 º           62 º

38 º                                           42 º       45 º         54 º           64 º

40 º                                           44 º       47 º         56 º           66 º

(red is life-threatening)

You can see that even at an ambient temperature of 20˚C (68˚F) the temperature in the car after one hour has risen to 46˚C (~115˚F) a temperature with which the dog’s thermoregulation cannot possibly cope and it will be in a state of emergency; the dog will probably die within an hour! You can understand that a bowl of water and opening the windows a crack will not be sufficient.

How do you recognise heat stroke in a dog? 

The first clinical signs of an overheating look like this:

  • persistent strong panting
  • severe salivation
  • the inside of the ears are very red and hot
  • the dog’s neck is stretched, its tongue completely out
  • the dog is restless, nervous or even in a panic

The dog will try to get its temperature down by intense panting. It will try to find a cool spot. If it can’t because it’s tied up or in the car, then its condition will dramatically deteriorate and “heat stroke” will develop:

  • rapid and shallow breathing (tachypnea)
  • abnormally fast heart rate (tachycardia)
  • mucous membranes and tongue dark red
  • increasing apathy
  • uncontrolled movements
  • followed by vomiting and/or bloody diarrhoea
  • body temperature rises above 40˚C (104˚F)
  • irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)

This condition of heat stress will develop into a physical collapse. The dog will be in a state of shock.

  • mucous membranes bluish
  • the dog begins to tremble and convulse

Followed by:

  • unconsciousness
  • coma
  • death

First aid.

The immediate first aid you can offer is to attempt to lower the body temperature and stabilise the circulation.

  1. Straight away put the dog in a cool and well shadowed place.
  2. Start to cool the dog down. The best thing is running water from a hose or bucket. Not ice cold water, otherwise the blood capillaries will contract and prevent blood flow from circulating heat away. Begin with the pads and legs gradually working up towards the head. Not too fast, that too is not good for the circulation. You can also use cool wet towels that are regularly replaced as they quickly get warm. Check the body temperature if possible, to avoid overcooling. Ideally the temperature should be cooled down to 39.4˚C (102.9˚F) within 30-60 minutes.
  3. If the dog is conscious give it some lukewarm water to drink. Never pour water in to the mouth of an unconscious or half-conscious dog! It must be able to drink on its own.
  4. Get the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Call first to make sure they are open, inform them that it’s a case of heat stroke so that they can take the necessary steps beforehand.

Transport the dog in the coolest possible vehicle, absolutely not inside a closed pet crate which can act as a sauna. Keep the dog cool with wet towels during the ride and keep the windows open to promote air circulation.

What you should do if the dog remains unconscious.

  • lay the dog on its side
  • head and neck stretched straight out
  • pull the tongue out of the mouth
  • cover the dog with cold wet towels and take it straight to a veterinarian

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It’s very important even if the dog appears to be stable after first aid to take it to a veterinarian. Most dogs suffering heat stroke will require an intravenous infusion and other medications. To verify if all organs are functioning properly a blood panel is indicated. Complications such as coagulation disorders, renal failure and cerebral oedema can occur. It is very important that the dog be kept under medical supervision for the first 24-48 hours.


How can you prevent a disaster like this?

  • go for walks only early in the morning or in the evening
  • avoid the midday or afternoon heat
  • avoid transporting dogs in a vehicle without airconditioning
  • even with airconditioning only when absolutely necessary
  • always make sure you have plenty of water with you so that the dog can drink on the way
  • if it has a long thick coat, shave your dog in the summer months
  • and most importantly: NEVER leave your dog in the car – not even for 5 seconds!!!

Also remember that even in early spring the sun can already be quite strong and that a car can heat up alarmingly when left in the sun.

What you should do if you see a dog in a car that is in the sun.


Don’t look the other way and don’t walk away!!!

Find the owner or have them called up. If that doesn’t happen quickly, call the police or fire brigade. If the dog is in a life threatening condition (panic or unconscious) then it needs to be freed immediately. As it’s illegal to break a window, make sure you have witnesses that have seen the dog’s condition, and take photos. In any case always call the police!


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Partially taken from ‘ Unsere Windhunde ‘ Sept. 2015