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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Heatstroke View In Dogs

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Heatstroke happens when the normal body mechanisms can't keep the body temperature in a safe range. Dogs and cats can get overwhelmed very easily because they don't have very efficient cooling systems. Dogs and cats do not sweat to regulate body temperature.


Heat stroke begins with heavy panting and difficulty breathing. The tongue and mucous membranes appear bright red. The saliva is thick and tenacious, and the dog often vomits. The rectal temperature rises to 104 - 110F (40 - 43.3C). The dog becomes progressively unsteady and passes bloody diarrhea. As shock sets in, the lips and mucous membranes turn gray. Collapse, seizures, coma, and death rapidly ensue.


When the outside air temperature is equal to or higher than a pet's body temperature, evaporation does not help and heat stroke may occur. Common situations that can set the stage for heat stroke are:

  • Being left in a car in hot weather
  • Exercising strenuously in hot, humid weather
  • Being a short nose breed
  • Suffering from heart or lung disease that interferes with efficient breathing
  • Being muzzled while put under a hair drier
  • Suffering from a high fever or seizures
  • Being confined on concrete or asphalt surfaces
  • Being confined without shade and fresh water in hot weather
  • Having a history of heat stroke


Diagnosis can be made by examining the pets symptoms and considering the contributing environmental factors.


For severe heatstroke (body temperature over 106F)

  1. get to the vet right away - Use a rectal thermometer lubricated with petroleum jelly to take you pet's temperature to determine what degree of heat stroke he has. Pets with temperatures higher than 106F need to see a veterinarian immediately. Rectal thermometers usually only register as high as 108F, and a pet with heatstroke may have a body temperature that goes to 110F or higher.

    If you can be at the animal hospital in 5 minutes or less, call the hospital to tell them that you are on the way and how high your pets temperature is - this will inform the veterinarian of the exact type of emergency treatment your pet will need. Then go immediately to the vet.

    Its safest to do this with another person to either drive or take care of your pet while you drive. make sure that the car is cool for the trip, and try to grab a bottle of rubbing alcohol and as much ice as you can on your way out the door. Position your pet in front of the air vent to achieve as much evaporation as possible. Try to cool your pet on the way by applying the ice and alcohol to his armpits and groin.
  2. Cool him - If he is conscious or if you live further than 5 minutes away from the hospital, try to lower his temperature to 106F before rushing him to the vet. Use the garden hose or shower, or get him into a tub or sink filled with cold water. Check his temperature every 5 minutes to be sure that it is coming down. When your pet's temperature is above 106F, he will be very dizzy or nearly unconscious, so be sure to keep his head above water.
  3. Give him an icepack - First, put a cold, wet washcloth on the back of your pet's neck and head. Then put an icepack or bag of frozen peas on top of the washcloth. This not only cools him off, but also helps reduce the heat in the brain and prevent brain swelling, which can kill him.
  4. Let him drink water - An even better option than water would be to offer a rehydration fluid such as Pedialyte or Gatorade. That can help cool him off from the inside out and help replace important electrolytes like salt that he may have lost from dehydration.
  5. Watch for shock - Pets with severe heatstroke are at risk for shock. Take your pet to the hospital immediately. Do not wrap him in a blanket if his temperature is above 104F. If you have cooled him off and his temperature is less than 100F, wrap him in a blanket for the trip to the hospital.

    If your pet has gone into shock, he may have low blood sugar levels. Raising his blood sugar levels with a dose of Karo syrup or honey may help. If you have time on the way out the door to quickly grab some, rub it on his gums on the trip to the hospital.
  6. Be prepared to give artificial respiration and CPR - Pets with severe heatstroke may stop breathing from shock, and sometimes, heatstroke can cause their throats to swell shut.

    Hold your pet's mouth shut, put your mouth over his nose, and give 2 quick breaths, watching to see his chest expand with air. Continue giving 15 - 20 breaths per minute until he starts to breathe on his own or until you reach the animal hospital.

    If your pet's heart has stopped, you will have to administer CPR. Determine if his heart has stopped by taking his pulse. You won't be able to feel a pulse in the carotid artery in the neck as you can with people. Instead, press your fingertips into the crease where the inside of the thigh meets the body and feel for the pulse in the femoral artery, which is very big and near the surface. If you can't feel a pulse, try listening or feeling for a heartbeat. Put your ear or hand against your pet's left side directly behind the elbow.

    If you don't detect a heartbeat, you will have to begin chest compressions. To give compressions for a cat or small dog, cup your hand over the point of the chest just behind the elbows, with your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other. Squeeze firmly, compressing by about 1/2 inch. This not only pumps the heart, but also makes the pressure inside the chest (and against the heart) rapidly increase and decrease and helps move the blood. Ideally, one person gives chest compressions while a second performs artificial respiration. Alternate one breath for every 5 compressions. The goal is 80 - 100 compressions and 15 - 20 breaths per minute until your pet revives or you reach medical help.

    Lay a larger pet on either side on a flat surface. Put one hand on top of the chest behind the elbow and you other hand on top of the first. Use both hands to thrust down firmly. you should compress the chest by about 25 - 50%. Alternate 1 breath for every 5 compressions.

    Continue your attempts to cool your pet as you administer artificial respiration and CPR on the way to the hospital. As he cools, he is more likely to begin breathing again. You may need someone to help you with these procedures.
For moderate heatstroke (body temperature between 104 - 106F)
  1. Get him into a cool place - If you have taken your pet's temperature and it is between 104 and 106F, he has moderate heat stroke. You still need to take measures to reduce his temperature, so take him inside and turn up the air conditioner. If you don't have air conditioning in your house, start your cars air conditioner and when the car is cool, sit inside with your pet. Once the temperature outside the body is lower than the temperature on the inside, the panting will start to be effective, and he will begin to cool off.
  2. Monitor his temperature - Take his temperature every 10 minutes to check the status of the heatstroke and determine the recovery rate. Dogs who begin with a temperature of 106F or lower usually recover quickly.
  3. Use ice packs or cool water - Wrap your pet in cold, wet towels and place ice packs in his armpits and groin region. There are major blood vessels in this area so the cold will chill his blood and help him cool off more quickly as the blood cools the body from the inside. you can also put him in a tub of cool water, in the shower, or even put him in the shade outside and use a garden hose to help reduce the temperature.
  4. Turn on fan - This will help increase evaporation, which will help cool him off.
  5. Offer him some cold water to drink - or give him some ice cubes to lick.
  6. Stop the cooling process at 103F - Your pet will pant as long as he is hot. Once his temperature returns to normal, he will stop panting and his breathing will slow down and be less frantic. Once his body temperature has dropped to 103F, stop the cooling off process, so he doesn't become chilled. Keep him relatively inactive and away from direct heat or sunlight.


For pets with long, heavy fur - These animals tend to shed most of their undercoats by the time hot weather comes around. A pet's coat actually helps insulate him from extreme heat while still allowing air currents to cool him off. If this fur gets tangled or matted, it holds the heat close to the body and prevents air circulation from reaching the skin and cooling it. Keeping pets well groomed may help prevent mild heatstroke.

To prevent problems with blow dryers and carriers - Pets who are left under hot blow dryers after baths can suffer heatstroke at any time of the year, and pet carriers that have poor ventilation can become death traps. If you need to confine your pet in a carrier or cage, make sure that there is plenty of ventilation. People with show dogs and cats often use small fans that attach to the cage to keep their pets cool in hot weather. You can find battery powered crate fans in pet-supply catalogs.

For old or overweight pets or those with breathing problems - These animals are at highest risk for heatstroke because even their normal cooling systems lose effectiveness. Keep these pets inside in air conditioning during hot weather, and don't let them exercise in the heat.

Here are a few more tips for prevention:

  • Dogs with airway disease and breathing problems should be kept indoors with air conditioning or at least a fan during periods of high heat and humidity.
  • Never leave your dog in a car with the windows closed, even if the car is parked in the shade.
  • When traveling by car, crate the dog in a well-ventilated dog carrier, or an open wire cage.
  • Restrict exercise in hot weather
  • Always provide shade and plenty of cool water to dogs outdoors, particularly those kenneled on cement or asphalt surfaces
  • Offer cooler surfaces outdoors for dogs to lie on, such as wooden planking, mats, or grass.


Pets who recover from moderate heatstroke probably won't have ongoing health problems, but severe heatstroke can damage the organs, especially the kidneys. Watch for blood in the urine. If your veterinarian has already found some damage, he may be prescribe a special kidney diet.

Pets who have heatstroke once have an increased risk of getting it again unless steps are taken to help keep them cool in hot weather. Most heatstroke victims have been left in a car during hot weather or confined in a yard or concrete run without shade. Whenever the temperature gets abode 80F, make sure your pet has access to shade.

Dogs and cats always need fresh water to keep themselves cool, but despite our best efforts, they can run out of water or it can spill and leave them thirsty. Pet supply stores carry different types of water dispensers that provide non-stop, non spill-able water supply for pets.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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