Dog Heat Stroke - Signs, Prevention and Heat Safety Tips

As the weather heats up across the country, one of the hottest topics for pet parents is preventing heat stroke and other heat related health issues. But, even the most loving pet parent can sometimes underestimate the effect the warmer weather (especially a drastic heat wave) can have on their canine companions.

While on a walk yesterday, I passed a woman with a baby in a stroller, two older children and a dog. Everyone looked hot, but none more so that the dog who was waddling behind the stroller, straining against the leash and exerting what seemed to be a lot of effort to try and keep up. It was clear the dog was suffering. I approached the woman to see if I could help out. Of course, I was wary of being too pushy as I didn't want her to be offended that I was offering unsolicited advice and to walk away without understanding that her dog looked to be in need of help. So, I began by asking her what mix her dog was and his age. I then mentioned that I had a friend with a dog of a similar type (a Pekingese mix) and from my experience they don't do well in warm weather. I knelt down to invite the dog over to me and he stepped right into the shaded area I created and laid down. The dog seemed fine with letting me pet him.

I wasn't sure if this was his normal demeanor or due to the fact that he might be too hot and tired to care. Regardless, I took it as an opportunity to take a look at his gums. The color looked a bit redder than is typical so I pointed it out to the woman. Luckily, she seemed very receptive. She said she knew her dog was hot, after all we all were. But, she didn't seem to understand how much more susceptible her dog was to suffering from the heat. She clearly had her hands full, so I stayed with her while she called her veterinarian who suggested she come in so they could check the dog's condition. I was glad to hear they were located just a few minutes away. She carried her dog off and had the oldest child push the stroller as they headed to their car.

Dogs have a relatively inefficient cooling system. Unlike humans who sweat through their skin to cool down, dogs release heat primarily through panting and through the pads of their feet. As a result of not being well equipped to dissipate or expel heat, dogs are highly susceptible to heat stroke. Heat stroke can cause brain damage, vital organ failure, and even death. In addition to their lack of a good cooling system, most dogs don't tend to have a strong awareness of when they have pushed themselves too far. This is especially true when they are trying to keep up with their human buddies. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the signs of heat stroke and vigilant about prevention.

Some Signs of Heat Stroke:

• Heavy or rapid panting
• Bright red tongue
• Red or pale gums
• Increased salivation
• Thick saliva
• Weakness, lethargy, and/or disorientation
• Vomiting and/or diarrhea

Tips if Your Dog Shows Signs of Heat Stroke:

• Move them to a shady, cooler area.
• Contact your veterinarian.
• Offer water.
• Begin cooling them gradually with tepid or cool water. Avoid using cold water as this may inhibit circulation and gradual cooling. If possible, using a fan as you gradually cool with water may help.
• Even if your dog seems more comfortable, take them to the veterinarian as delayed reactions to heat stroke may develop.

Tips for Preventing Heat Stroke:

• Avoid vigorous exercise and play outside on warm days. Instead, plan time for play indoors or in a cooler outdoor area early in the morning or later in the day when the temperature is safer for such activity. This will also help your dog avoid the risk of sunburn.

• Avoid walking your dog for prolonged periods on concrete. This type of surface can heat up more quickly than grassy areas and will reflect the heat from the ground causing your dog to become hotter more quickly.

• Heat related issues are common in the first days of warmer weather when a dog hasn't had an opportunity to become acclimated to the weather. So, be especially careful during this period.

• Be especially cautious with dogs that are more susceptible to heat related issues such as brachycephalic dogs (short nosed dogs such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Mastiffs), puppies, elderly dogs, dogs suffering from obesity and other medical issues.

• Hydration is key. Be sure to bring plenty of water with you on walks with your dog. A good option is the Pet Top portable water bottle drinking adapter for pets which can be attached to most water bottles to make it easy for your dog to drink from them.

• Note that dogs can suffer from heat stroke even when they are not engaged in rigorous play. In fact, if the weather is warm enough, dogs can even suffer from heat stroke while swimming.

• Never leave your dog in a car unsupervised or in any area where they cannot stay cool.

• Provide your dog with a cool area to rest in the home.

• Offer your dog ice cubes or a durable, rubber chew toy that is filled with water and frozen to help keep them cool, occupied and happy.

• Get a cooling mat for your dog to rest on. Some options are: The Canine Cooler, CoolBody, Dog Cooling Pad from Sporting Dog Solutions, Duo Temp Dog Bed, Coll Bed III, Premier Ice Pod Cooling Pad.

• Chat with your veterinarian prior to clipping your dog's coat down to a 'Summer cut.' A dog's fur acts to insulate them from the cold, but also from the heat. Shaving a dog's coat too short could diminish their ability to stay cooler and make them more susceptible to sunburn.

The warm weather months can be a wonderful time for you and your dog to enjoy the outdoors. But, due to the possible seriousness of a dog's reaction to the heat, prevention and awareness is key to keeping your dog safe, healthy and happy.

Andrea is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers and a Certified Pet Partners Team evaluator for the Delta Society and the AKC's Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. She is the director of Andrea Arden Dog Training, and was named the best dog trainer in New York by New York, W, Time Out and Quest magazines and the Daily News. Her website is located at and she can be reached at 212-414-9597. You can follow her on Facebook at

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