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Heatstroke In Dogs

By Dr Katrina Warren on December 15, 2011 in Other

Photo: James Hutton

With summer almost upon us, the sweltering temperatures can be deadly for dogs. The NRMA recently reported that in just one month they received more than 100 calls about dogs that had been locked in cars.

Heatstroke is a very serious condition caused by a marked elevation in body temperature. It usually occurs on hot or humid days, especially if a dog has been confined to a hot place such as a car. Dogs can also become overheated after too much exercise and over exertion.

What Causes Heatstroke?

Unlike us humans, dogs do not sweat and instead control their body temperature by increasing their rate of breathing and panting. If a dog’s breathing is compromised this increases the risk of heatstroke.

Breeds with squashed noses such as bulldogs, pugs and staffys have short airways and develop heatstroke much more easily. Special care must be taken to prevent these dogs from overheating during summer.


• Elevated body temperature – greater than 39.5oC
• Panting persistently and quickly
• Looking stressed and agitated
• Vomiting and diarrhoea
• Weakness and muscle tremors
• Collapsing and having a seizure

What Should You Do?

If you suspect that your dog has suffered heatstroke and has an elevated temperature you should try to cool it down and take it to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

• Offer them cool water
• Wet their coat with a cool shower
• Place a cool wet towel over them for transport
• Turn on car’s air conditioning to maximum

You should also take this approach if your dog has collapsed, is convulsing or is non-responsive.

How To Prevent Heatstroke

Don’t leave your dog unattended in the car – Even with the windows are wound down, on a hot day the temperature inside a parked car can rise to dangerous levels very quickly. It can take less than ten minutes for a dog to die inside a car if the temperature rises.

Provide shade at home – Make sure that your pet has shade at all times during the day as the sun will move throughout the day. On very hot days dogs can still overheat in the shade so it is best to keep your dog indoors.

Water – Make sure there is cool water available at all times during the day. Water bowls need to be kept in the shade or the water temperature can become very hot. Make sure the bowls can’t be tipped over – ceramic or terracotta bowls are great. I recommend leaving two water bowls out.

Exercise in morning or evening – Avoid exercising your dog during the heat of the day when the sun is beating down. Be aware that the pavements can also get extremely hot and burn your pet’s feet.