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How To Treat Heat Exhaustion in Dogs

Apr 21st, 2023

Summer is fast approaching, and that means long, blissful days adventuring with your dog!

As much as your dog is willing to run to the ends of the Earth and back for you all day long, it’s up to us as pet owners to keep an eye on their health and know when to call it quits — especially in the high heat.

Heat exhaustion is a real issue with dogs in the summertime, and you never want to run the risk of overdoing it to the point where they get sick, they get heat stroke or, unfortunately, they run the risk of death.

Here’s how you can recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and, more importantly, you can treat the symptoms!

Identifying and treating heat exhaustion in dogs

Heat exhaustion is the common name for hyperthermia. While hypothermia occurs when one’s body temperature dips too low to function properly, hyperthermia can happen when the body temperature rises too high. 

There’s a big difference in how us humans and our furry, four-legged friends deal with being too hot and too cold. Dogs are typically better at dealing with the cold, thanks to their thick fur that insulates their body in even the coldest of conditions, while us measly humans get chilly at even the slightest breeze on our bare skin. 

Alternatively, though, us two-legged creatures can handle the heat much better than our four-legged ones. Humans have sweat glands all over our bodies that allow us to release body heat in the form of sweat, allowing us to stay out in the heat for longer and keep our bodies more regulated and under control. Dogs only have sweat glands like that in between the pads on their feet, so they have to rely on panting in order to cool their bodies.

Panting can only do so much to cool down a dog’s well-insulated body in high temperatures. And, when their internal body temperatures rise from their stable 101° to 102.5° Fahrenheit to anything exceeding 103°, that’s where heat illnesses start to occur. 

Heat exhaustion vs heat stroke

Before we delve into the symptoms and treatments of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in dogs, it’s important to know that there is definitely a difference between the two diagnoses.

The biggest difference between the two illnesses is the dog’s body temperature range which, depending on how high the temperature gets, will affect your dog in different ways. 

A dog’s typical internal body temperature rests somewhere between 101° to 102.5° Fahrenheit. If it gets to around 103° or above, then that’s when fever starts to set in and heat exhaustion starts to set in. 

If their temperature starts getting into the 106° Fahrenheit range, that’s when heat stroke starts to set in. And, if the temperatures get to between 107° to 109°, then that’s where organ failure starts happening and things can get fatal.

It all sounds really scary, but don’t let this freak you out! As a pet owner it’s your responsibility to be aware of the worst-case scenario, for sure, but there are also plenty of steps you can take before that that can prevent the worst from happening!

Here’s what to keep an eye out for if you’re out and about in the heat and suspect your dog may be suffering from the heat. 

Signs of heat exhaustion in dogs

Not all of these will happen at once, necessarily, but they are all symptoms of a raised body temperature — or hyperthermia. 

Panting: like we said, dogs try to cool down by panting, so if your dog is panting excessively or having a hard time breathing, then that could be a sign of overheating. 

Drooling: along with panting more than usual, excessive drooling is another sign of hyperthermia. If your dog already drools quite a bit, then check the consistency of their drool and see if it’s stickier or thicker than normal. 

Dizziness: heat exhaustion can cause dizziness or lightheadedness, especially if your dog is already panting excessively.

Weakness and lethargy: if your dog is having a hard time standing up, keeping up with you, walking or even waking up from naps, then their lethargy could be a sign of heat exhaustion.

Fever: the most accurate way to test for fever is through an rectal thermometer. But, in a pinch, you can touch your dog’s nose and check how it feels. If their nose is dry and hot instead of wet and cool, they likely have a fever.

Diarrhea and vomiting: neither of these are a good sign, but if they’re coupled with other hyperthermia symptoms, then it’s likely connected to their heat exhaustion.

Dehydration: dehydration doesn’t always mean heat exhaustion, but it’s still a serious condition on its own. Signs of dehydration include bluish gums, a lack of urine, lethargy and sunken eyes. 

Rapid pulse: unless your dog’s seen the love of its life walking towards it, then a rapid pulse is not a good thing. Especially if it’s paired with lethargy and a lack of activity.

How to treat heat exhaustion in dogs

If you notice any of the signs of heat exhaustion in your dog, then there are steps you can take to mitigate the effects.

Get them into the shade

The first step should always be taking your dog into a cool, shady place. If you can get into an air-conditioned indoor space, that’s ideal, but if you’re outside then get them into the shade or blast the A/C on in your car.

Cool them down with water

Once your dog is safe and in the shade, then start focusing on how to cool them down and lower their body temperature. 

Wet your dog thoroughly with cool water, focusing on sensitive areas where their blood is closest to the surface of their skin like their armpits, feet, ears, stomach and head. Avoid draping them in wet towels, as those will end up trapping the heat back into their body.

Also, make sure to use cool water — not cold. It may seem counter-intuitive, but cooling your dog down too quickly isn’t good for them, either. Use cool water for larger dogs and lukewarm water for smaller gods or smaller puppies. 

Dry them off

As you’re using water to cool your dog, make sure to keep a fan nearby blowing cool air over them. The water you’re using to cool your dog will eventually warm up on their hot skin, so having a fan blowing air over them will help that warm water evaporate faster. 

If you’re able to check their temperature, then do that intermittently as you’re cooling and drying them off. Use a pet thermometer if you can, but you can also use a human thermometer if you don’t have access to a pet one. Make sure that the thermometer you use isn’t glass, though, as your dog would bite down on it and it could break into their mouth.

Call your vet

Your first priority should be getting your dog in the shade and getting them cool, but your next one should be to call your veterinarian. You never know what’s going on inside your dog’s body and whether the heat exhaustion has caused more damage than you can see, so it’s important that they get examined professionally by a vet as soon as possible. 

Plus, a trained professional can guide you through any additional first said that you may need to administer before bringing them in. 

All in all

Bottom line, if you suspect heat exhaustion in your dog, get them into a cool place and do your best to cool them down in a controlled manner. You can always call your vet and ask your advice throughout the process, but as long as you have your dog’s best interests at heart and you avoid the chance of heat exhaustion altogether, you have the ability to help them!

Good luck!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/joaph

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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