Pleasant weather and longer daylight hours likely tempt you to spend more time outdoors with your furry pal during the summer, but the heat and humidity can be extremely dangerous for your pet. Dogs are particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses because their bodies cannot cool down efficiently, and they are oblivious to recognizing when they need to take a rest, cool down, and hydrate. Our Animal Care & Emergency Services team knows that heatstroke is a life-threatening condition, and we provide these guidelines to help you prevent your pet from experiencing a heat-related emergency this summer.

Heatstroke in dogs

Heatstroke occurs when a pet’s body temperature rises above normal, causing body cells to malfunction and die. This condition is often deadly in dogs, and around 20% to 50% of those affected die from multiple organ failure, brain damage, or internal bleeding. Prevention is the best way to help ensure your pooch avoids a heatstroke tragedy, but prompt cooling and veterinary intervention can help increase likelihood of survival. 

A high body temperature quickly affects many internal systems, leading to various signs. If your dog is panting heavily, weak, vomiting, or experiencing diarrhea, they may be suffering heatstroke, especially if their signs progress to the following:

  • Muscle spasms or stiff gait
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Disorientation
  • Weakness or incoordination
  • Red gums
  • Bleeding, including bloody urine, stool, or vomitus, or bruising
  • Seizures
  • Collapse or unconsciousness

Left untreated, heatstroke can cause an affected dog to die within an hour of the signs’ onset. A dog who receives prompt medical attention usually remains hospitalized for several days after the initial event, so their veterinarian can monitor them for mental status changes, blood clotting abilities, infections related to gastrointestinal (GI) damage, and neurologic, heart, and internal organ functions.

Other heat-related problems in pets

Summer heat can also lead to other non life-threatening medical problems for pets. Hot asphalt or metal can burn your pet’s paw pads or skin. Serious burns are extremely painful and often become infected, necessitating an emergency veterinary visit to dress the wounds, treat pain, and prevent infection. To help prevent your pet from experiencing burns to their paw pads, encourage them to stay on the grass, concrete, gravel, or dirt.

Some pets, usually thick-coated breeds or animals who have underlying allergies, are also prone to moist dermatitis (i.e., hot spots) during the humid summer months. These lesions often seem to appear out of nowhere and grow large quickly, causing a pet itchiness and pain. Moist dermatitis treatment requires shaving the fur over the lesion, applying topical creams or powders to reduce itch, and administering oral antibiotics. Allergy treatment requires bathing your pet with medicated shampoo and drying their fur and skin thoroughly afterward.

Assessing your pet’s heatstroke risk

By knowing your pet’s heatstroke risk, you can help keep them safe. When temperature and humidity levels soar, take extra precautions and keep your pet indoors as much as possible, especially if they belong to one of these groups:

  • Flat-faced (i.e., brachycephalic) breeds with compromised airways, including pugs, English bulldogs, and French bulldogs
  • Senior pets
  • Overweight or obese pets
  • Pets with structural airway diseases, including laryngeal paralysis and collapsing trachea
  • Pets with endocrine or heart disease, or a lung condition

Preventing heatstroke in dogs

Most pets are susceptible to heatstroke, but dogs are especially vulnerable. To help prevent your dog from developing heatstroke, follow these tips:

  • Keep them out of the sun during peak daytime hours
  • Exercise your dog during the early morning or late evening
  • Allow your dog time to acclimate to warmer temperatures by increasing their outdoor time gradually each day
  • Provide water and shade while outdoors and on walks
  • Ensure they take frequent breaks during exercise or walks
  • Outfit your dog in a cooling vest or give them a cooling bed if they like to sit outside for long periods during the summer
  • Always supervise your dog when they are outdoors and never leave them unattended in a vehicle
  • Provide a sprinkler or wading pool if your dog enjoys water

How to help your pet if they experience a heat-related emergency

Call your primary veterinarian or our ACES emergency veterinary team immediately if you believe your pet is exhibiting heatstroke signs. Depending on your pet’s condition, we may instruct you to begin cooling them while en route to the hospital, because the longer your furry pal’s temperature remains elevated, the less likely they are to recover. Do not use ice water or ice, because either can constrict your pet’s blood vessels or lead to shock. Wet your pet’s fur with cool water and place them in front of a fan or your car’s air-conditioning vent, then head to our hospital for care.

This summer, help your pet stay cool and avoid heatstroke and other heat-related emergencies. Our ACES team is available 24/7 if your pet needs emergency or specialty care. Call us immediately if your furry pal exhibits heatstroke signs, or if you have questions regarding heat and summer pet safety.