Heat Stroke - A medical emergency

Those long awaited lazy days of summer are fast upon us and though welcomed with open arms, these same summer days can present unintentional severe consequences for our pets. Heat stroke awareness is a must for all dog owners. Although this life threatning condition is most commonly seen in dogs, all animals can be affected. By definition heat stroke is caused by failure of the body's temperature regulating mechanism when exposed to excessively high temperatures. Usually caused by outside influences whereas heat exhaustion is caused externally by the own body. Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat injury occuring when body temperature rises above 41 degrees celcius (106F). As dogs do not persive the way himans do, panting is the method in which they cool themselves. Sweat glands are located on the pads of their paws. Predisposed conditions in some dogs can place them at higher risk of heat stroke while participating in the most normal of activities on hot days. Heart disease, obessity, advanced age, and the brachycephalic breeds (short muzzled-bulldogs, pugs, etc) are all high risk conditions. The signs and symptoms of this potentially fatal condition are well documented and include excessive panting, restlessness/discomfort, thick, sticky saliva, increased salivation, bright red tongue, red or pale gums, weakness and vomitting/diarrhea. The pet's body may feel burning hot and as the body temperature continues to climb the animal may experience seizures, collapse, or become comatose. Again, heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires veterinary attention. First aid is vital until the animal can be seen by your veterinarian. Cool, wet towels placed over the back of the neck, under forelimbs and in the groin area will help reduce body temperature. Avoid using very cold water as it can be counter productive - cooling too quickly allowing body temperature to drop to unsafe levels. Due to the unseen complications of heat stroke which can include swelling of the brain, kidney failure, and abnormal blood clotting, medical intervention may involve intavenous fluids, possible sedation to allow for safe and effective opening of the airway plus blood tests and urine. Examinations to assess organ function. Although a medical emergency, heat stroke is also entirely avoidable. Awareness and preventative measures will perserve life. Public educational campaigns provided throughout the summer months warn against leaving pets unattended in closed vehicles. Open windows in cars do little to slow the overheating process. As dogs are incapable of sweating and evaporate heat by panting it requires large amounts of circulating air to move heat away from your animal. When heat is trapped in a car, animals can litterally overheat and die within minutes.

Elapsed time

Outside Temperatures

20 degrees                     25 degrees                     30 degrees

0 min 20 degrees (68F) 25 degrees (77F) 30 degrees (86F)
10 min 30 degrees (86F) 35 degrees (95F) 40 degrees (104F)
20 min 37 degrees (99F) 42 degrees (107F) 47 degrees (116F)
30 min 40 degrees (104F) 49 degrees (120F) 54 degrees (129F)


Never leave your pet unattended in a car, within 10 minutes a closed car can reach life threatning temperatures. If getting out of your car take your dog with you. Better yet leave your pet at home where he/she will be both safe and comfortable. Keeping your pet well hydrated will help prevent heat stroke during the hot summer months. Ensure easy access to fresh cool water. Frozen water bottles make great ice cubes. For pets living outside during the summer months, access to shade is a must. Carry water when exercising your dog or walk routes you know your dog will have access to fresh water. Avoid walking your pet during the hottest hours of the day. Develop the practise of walking your dog in the morning or evening. Following these guidlines will help ensure your most vulnerable family members enjoy the long lazy days of summer in safety and comfort.


Article submitted by:  Kelly Fitzpatrick-Stewart    July 2016