Hot Dogs: Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in Dogs

Hot Dogs: Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in Dogs

One of the great joys in life for my dog and me is to be able to enjoy the plethora of trails and rivers around southern Colorado. I am hard pressed to find a source of more pure, unadulterated dog joy than letting her relish all of the smells and sights of the local mountain wilderness. I’m sure that many of you and your dogs feel the same way about the abundance of outdoor recreation this time of year. But now that summer is fully upon us and temperatures are climbing all over the country, I am getting more questions about when to worry about overdoing it with our furry friends. Allow me to share some of my more commonly asked summertime questions.

How hot is too hot for my dog?

With the thermostat climbing, a fun day outside can quickly become uncomfortable (and dangerous!) to those wearing full-time fur coats. It likely seems logical, but if you are outside and uncomfortable in the heat, than most likely your dog is too. Always be sure to provide plenty of fresh water and shade. Be sure to be cognizant of acclimation as well. In other words, if you were born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, a 90-degree day may feel quite mild. If you were raised in Barrow, Alaska, then that same 90 degrees may feel like the surface of the sun. The same goes for our pets. If your are travelling this summer with your dog and you are used to living and playing in cooler temperatures, a journey south to a warmer and/or more humid climate may pose more of a risk to your pet.

Which breeds have more problems with heat?

Dogs with short noses like Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers more commonly have problems simply due to the shape and size of their airways. A 2006 study on canine heat stroke reported that Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Belgian Malinois have an increased risk as well. Smaller breeds are less commonly affected but this may be due to the fact that they don’t run/bike/swim/exercise with their owners as often or as intensely as their large breed brethren. Remember that dogs can’t sweat the way your or I can, so their body cooling mechanisms are limited to panting and a little through the pads of their feet. This makes them more heat sensitive than us humans.


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When should I be concerned about my dog?

The main symptoms for heat exhaustion and heat stroke are:

  • Excessive panting
  • Red gums or conjunctiva (the normally light pink part of the eye)
  • Dry mucous membranes (the dog version of “cotton mouth”)
  • Lethargy, sluggishness
  • Gastrointestinal upset (vomiting/diarrhea)
  • Hypersalivation (extra drooling)
  • High heart rate (consistently more than 100 beats per minute when dog is not running around)
  • Staggering, stumbling, loss of balance or coordination, changes in normal personality

What should I do if I see signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke in my dog?

The best thing to do if you see any of these signs is to seek medical care immediately. The longer that a dog’s core body temperature is over 104 degrees, the more permanent damage can occur. A normal body temperature is less than 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If you cannot make it to a veterinarian right away, try to encourage your dog to drink water, and attempt to cool his/her body temperature by letting him stand in cool water if some is available. Ice packs applied to the armpit and groin areas can help as well, but don’t leave them in place for several minutes at a time. They can actually cause the temperature to swing too far the other direction and cause hypothermia (low body temperature). Rinsing your dog in cool, not cold, water helps to gently reduce body temperature safely. If no water is available, rubbing alcohol applied to the pads of the feet can help lower body temperature too.

What can happen to my dog if they get heat stroke?

Dogs with untreated (or delayed treatment for) heat stroke can cause some very rapid and very serious problems. To name a few, heat stroke causes clotting problems, kidney failure, seizures/brain damage, heart arrhythmias, multiple organ dysfunction, and eventually death. Yes, it’s scary stuff.

Any other summertime cautions for my dog?

I would like to mention a potential problem with outdoor activities that many overlook. Concrete, asphalt, and sand can heat to easily over 140 degrees in the sun. You may be wearing shoes but your dog is not. I strongly support taking your dog for walks but if it is in the middle of the day in the hot sun and you are stuck on paved surfaces, be aware of the excessive surface temperature. I have treated some pretty nasty burns on dogs that have been walked on hot pavement by well-intentioned folks. “Booties” are available at many pet supply stores that can protect your dog’s feet if needed and no grass or dirt paths are nearby.

Also, UV rays can affect our pets too. If your dog has a lot of white or tan on its coat, he or she can get sunburned, especially in the thin-coated areas around the nose and ears. Ask your veterinarian what kind of sun protection would be appropriate for your pet.

I would never encourage a pet owner to stay inside all summer. We love to get outside and play! But pay attention to the heat index in your area. Excessive temperatures and/or humidity can quickly turn an outdoor adventure into a scary ordeal. Consider playing in the cooler parts of the day, and be sure to provide some shade where your dog can cool off when needed. Now go enjoy the summer!

Disclaimer: This information is educational in nature and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical prevention, diagnosis, or treatment.

Image by trailblazer Natalia Martinez. 

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About the Author

Dr. Jennifer Deming, DVM

Jennifer Deming, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian at AspenTree Animal Caring Center in Durango and member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. She strives to improve her patients' wellness through nutrition counseling and preventative medicine. When she’s not at the clinic, Dr. Jen enjoys trail running, gourmet cooking, hiking, and enjoying all things Durango with her family—including cats Fujita and Toonces, and dog Leia.
Dr. Jennifer Deming, DVM