Ask the Vet

Watch for Signs of Heatstroke in Dogs

Heat stroke in a dog is defined as a body temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and it calls for immediate action. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Mike Geissinger)


My neighbor had one of his dogs die and he said he thought it was a heat stroke. Our dogs are outside all the time when we are working. What are some of the signs of heatstroke in dogs, and how do we treat it?


Dogs and cats cannot sweat like humans. They cool themselves by panting and radiating heat. High temperatures make both these methods less efficient and definitely increase the risk of heatstroke.

Normal body temperature for dogs and cats ranges between 101 degrees and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Heatstroke is defined as a body temperature over 104 degrees. Body temperature over 106 degrees is severe heatstroke. The only way to know an animal's body temperature is by using a rectal thermometer.

Common signs of a heat stroke may include panting, excessive salivation, red or pale gums, a purple tongue, rapid heart rate, glazed eyes, incoordination, vomiting and diarrhea. Without prompt attention, the liver, kidneys, heart, muscles, brain and GI tract can all be severely damaged, leading to death.

If you suspect your dog or cat is having a heat stroke, get them to a cool place and call your veterinarian. Depending on the circumstances, they may want you to bring the animal in to the clinic immediately, or start the cooling process first and then come in.

I know it's a common reaction, but don't immerse a pet in cold water or try to force them to drink water. Tepid water should be used to rinse them to slowly lower body temperature. Cold water immersion often results in hypothermia, which can also lead to death. Take their temperature frequently and try to get it to 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Then you need to dry the pet, stabilize the temperature and transport them to your veterinarian. Even if they seem to recover, heatstroke damage to internal organs may have occurred and in some cases won't show up for hours or days.