Pet Health: Protect your dog from heat exhaustion and heat stroke during summer months

By Dr. Nicole Luke

With hot summer months upon us, many of us are eager to take our four-legged buddies with us while we are out and about.

Did you now that flat-faced dog breeds, including the pug, are more prone to heat exhaustion? Photo from American Kennel Club.
Did you now that flat-faced dog breeds, including the pug, are more prone to heat exhaustion? Photo from American Kennel Club.

We might not think about effects of heat on our pets during a quick trip to the store, a run at the dog park, or a walk around the block.

Protect pets from heat

Most of us humans can recognize signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion. We at least have the sense to know when to stop when we start feeling a little sickly. But dogs do not have this ability. So it is up to us as responsible pet owners to know our pets’ limits, and to protect them from the heat.

Dogs do not sweat like you and me, and that makes it difficult for them to regulate body temperatures, especially in hot and humid weather. They depend on panting, and sweating through their foot pads and their noses.

In a matter of minutes, a dog may become overheated while exercising, playing or just by being left in the heat with no water or shade. Heat exhaustion can quickly become a life-threatening heat stroke.

As pet owners, we should be able to recognize the early signs of heat exhaustion.

Signs of heat exhaustion

  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Heavy panting and rapid breathing
  • Excessive drooling that then turns to thick tenacious saliva
  • Bright red gums and tongue
  • Dry tacky gums and mucous membranes
  • Weakness or struggling to maintain balance
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Body temperature of 104 degrees or greater
  • Elevated heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Confusion or disorientation

If you notice any of these signs, immediately remove your dog from the heat. In addition, help the dog cool down by bathing in cool water and by applying cloth-covered ice packs to groin area; recheck temperature every 10 minutes.

Severe symptoms of heat exhaustion can quickly turn to heat stroke.

Signs of heat stroke

  • White or blue gums
  • Labored, noisy breathing
  • Uncontrollable urination and or defecation
  • Lethargy or unwillingness to move
  • Unconsciousness

Any of these signs or symptoms requires immediate medical attention and can quickly lead to death.

Keep your pet safe and healthy

  • Never leave pets in a car in hot weather, even with windows rolled down.
  • Avoid any strenuous exercise or play in hot weather.
  • Always provide access to fresh water and shade – especially in the heat of the day.
  • Brachycephalic breeds – or flat-faced dog breeds, including bulldogs and pugs – are more susceptible to overheating.
  • Obesity and pre-existing medical conditions put pets at much higher risks of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Dogs with dark-colored or long-haired coats are more at risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Very young and older pets are more sensitive to the heat.

Author Nicole Luke is a staff member with the Community Practice group at CSU’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. The team provides general care, wellness services, and treatment of minor injuries and illnesses for pets.

James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital