Heatstroke in Dogs – What to know

As we probably don’t have to tell you – Jacksonville can get pretty hot in the Summer months! But this heat puts many dogs at risk for heatstroke, an emergency situation that can be fatal. Dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke because their bodies aren’t nearly as efficient at dissipating heat as our bodies are; a dog’s body is designed to be great at insulating itself from the cold. Fortunately, if you are informed, it is relatively simple to prevent heatstroke. In the next few minutes, you will learn about the common risk factors for heatstroke (this includes certain breeds that are more susceptible, along with lifestyle and environment). You will also learn how to spot the symptoms of heatstroke, and will gain a step-by-step instruction guide for what to do if you believe your dog has heatstroke. Someday, it might save your dog’s life!

Risk Factors


Dogs that have large amounts of fur, are overweight (especially obese dogs), or have shorter noses are at heightened risk of heatstroke. These types of dogs are at a higher risk:

  • Any dogs that are overweight/obese
  • Pugs
  • English Bulldogs
  • French Bulldogs
  • Boston Terriers
  • Shih Tzus
  • Pekingese
  • Boxers
  • Chow Chows


A dog is at extreme risk if it is hot outside and their access to shade and water is limited. This is because, in order for a dog’s biological cooling mechanisms to work well, they require cool ground and plenty of water so that their system can stay hydrated. Please make sure your dog always has access to shade and water. Keyway dogs radiate heat is through the pads on their feet. If they have to stand or lay on hot asphalt or pavement, they won’t be able to get rid of the excess heat, and they can quickly develop heatstroke.

Dogs who maintain an active lifestyle are at higher risk as well. If your dog is especially active, make sure to pay close attention to any symptoms they may exhibit, and make sure they have plenty of access to water and shade.


When it’s 85 degrees outside, it takes about ten minutes for a car’s interior to heat to 102 degrees. It takes 30 minutes to heat to 120 degrees. Many pet owners are aware that you shouldn’t leave a pet inside a car, but most aren’t aware of just how quickly this becomes an emergency situation – even if it’s only “warm” outside. And cracking the windows doesn’t actually help much because your car will still essentially function as an oven. It is even dangerous if you are parked in the shade because your car will work to trap heat.

Important note: If you ever find a dog, cat, or child inside an unattended car during extreme weather, for any amount of time, it is an emergency situation and we urge you to call law enforcement immediately.


Symptoms of heatstroke are not always obvious (unless the heatstroke is severe), so you need to pay close attention if your pet is at risk biologically or environmentally. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Excessive or rapid panting
  • Sticky or thick saliva
  • Gums that are pale or red
  • A tongue that is bright red
  • Dizziness
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Vomiting (sometimes with blood)
  • Diarrhea
  • Shock or coma

What to do

With heatstroke, fast action is really everything. This is a condition that can be fatal in a matter of minutes. If you suspect your dog has heatstroke, you do need to take him or her in to see us (or a local veterinarian if you are traveling), but first, you need to take the following steps immediately:

  1. Remove your dog from the hot environment immediately.
  2. Find a spot with access to running water, and take your dog there. A bathtub is ideal, but a hose works too if the tub is impractical. Begin to run cool (but not cold!) water over their entire body, paying extra attention to their head and neck. It is vitally important that you do not use cold water, as this can actually create an even more dangerous situation for your dog.
  3. If you are using a bathtub, never allow your dog’s head to go below the water level. Make sure no water enters their nose, even when rinsing manually.
  4. Use a rectal thermometer to take your dog’s temperature every five minutes. Once your dog’s temperature lowers to 103 degrees, you can cease the rinsing/soaking. Note: if you don’t have a rectal thermometer currently, we recommend getting one soon.
  5. Bring your dog to a shaded and cool area with access to plenty of drinking water. Allow your dog to drink as much water as they like, and begin to dry them completely off with a clean towel.
  6. Apply a cold pack (such as a bag of frozen vegetables) to the top of your dog’s head.
  7. Begin massaging your dog’s legs with vigor. This increases circulation, decreasing the risk of shock.
  8. Call us to let us know you suspect heat stroke in your dogs and have taken the preceding steps. We will advise you on how to transport your dog to us and will prepare a room for them. This is crucially important, as heatstroke often causes dangerous secondary conditions that are invisible to the naked eye.

Veterinary care

As soon as your dog arrives at our veterinary hospital, we will begin to provide your dog with electrolytes and intravenous fluids. After we are confident your dog’s condition is stable, we will start to check for secondary conditions. These include irregular blood pressure levels, clotting problems, kidney failure, brain swelling, and neurological issues. If we find signs of a secondary condition, we will begin treatment immediately.

In all stages of treatment, fast action is so important with heatstroke victims, even if it seems mild.

We understand that heatstroke is a scary topic to dog owners; so many dogs are lost to it every year. But if you take this guide’s advice to heart, including the preventative measures, and follow the immediate treatment action plan, you are taking such an important step in protecting your dog. We recommend bookmarking this guide and sharing with your friends. And remember, no matter what you need, we are always here for you and your dog.

-The Animal Hospital of Oceanway Team