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Ask A Vet: I Think My Dog Has Heatstroke. What Do I Do Right Now?


Heat stoke is a very dangerous syndrome that has a high mortality rate. Over half of severely affected dogs die regardless of medical care, so if you think that your dog has heat stroke, you should act immediately.

It is important to understand that the actual heat is only the inciting cause of the entire deadly cascade of events.  The cells suffer from damage because of the heat and begin to release chemicals that start a series of inflammatory landslides that can (and often do) lead to the death of the cells, tissues and ultimately the patient. The pathophysiology of this harmful process is your veterinarian’s arena, but most dog lovers want to know what they can do to try to weigh the odds of recovery in their favor.

Signs that your dog may be overheating include:

  • excessive panting
  • very red gums
  • vomiting/diarrhea
  • collapse

So what do you do? Immediately wet your dog with tepid water, all the way to the skin. Pile him into your car without delay. While you are traveling, roll down all the windows to help air circulate around your dog and turn the air conditioner all the way to max. Air movement is your goal because the air will cause the water on your dog’s coat and skin to evaporate more quickly and take heat with it.

Get him/her to your vet or animal ER as fast as safely possible. You can expect the veterinary staff to place an IV catheter and begin emergency shock therapy. You can anticipate several days of hospitalization and an earnest talk with the examining vet.

It is best to avoid heatstroke if possible, but sometimes dogs overheat just playing or running. Be sure that you know the signs and what to do… and keep a water hose handy!

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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