Pet Education

Canine Heat Stroke: It’s getting hot in here…

PetED: Canine Heat Stroke

Unlike people, dogs cannot sweat to get rid of excessive body heat. Dogs can only regulate their body temperature by panting, but sometimes this is not enough prevent heat exhaustion.

By Stella Chu, VMD
Emergency & Critical Care

Why do dogs get heat exhaustion or heat stroke?

A temperature above 103 degree Fahrenheit is consider above normal for dogs. A temperature above 106 degree Fahrenheit may lead to heat stroke. Some dogs may be at higher risks for heat exhaustion and heat stroke, including dogs with thick and long hair, overweight dogs, the brachycephalic breeds (short nosed, flat faced), such as pugs, bull dogs, boxers, and shih tzus.  However, it is important to remember that all dogs are at risk if the environmental condition allows.

Besides a high temperature, a high humidity will increase the risks for heat exhaustion as well.


  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pale OR bright red gums/tongue
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting, diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Seizures

What can you do if you suspect your dog suffers from heat exhaustion/heat stroke?

  • If your pet has been outside in the hot weather and you suspect that he/she may be overheated, you should remove your dog from the heated area into an area with air conditioning, fan, or a shaded area.
  • If you have a rectal thermometer, you may take your dog’s temperature at home. However, if your dog will not allow you to do so, please take your dog to a veterinarian to avoid getting hurt. A body temperature between 103-106 degree Fahrenheit may is a concern for heat exhaustion and your dog should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately if it is above 106 degree Fahrenheit.
  • You can use cool (NOT COLD) wet towels to cover your dog to help with cooling.
  • You can offer your dog water if he is willing to drink on his own. Ice cubes may cause body temperature to drop too quickly and is not recommended.
  • Have your dog be evaluated by a veterinarian!

Serious complications from heat stroke

  • An elevated body temperature can cause organ damage (especially bone marrow and liver), leading to multi-organ failure
  • Dogs can develop upper airway obstruction from excessive panting, which may require intubation and mechanical ventilation.
  • The shock organ of the dog is the gastrointestinal tract. Heat stroke can lead to severe sloughing of the GI mucosa which may lead to systemic infection.
  • Cerebral edema can develop leading to dull mentation and seizures.
  • Out of control inflammatory response leading to persistent low blood pressure, inability to form clots, low platelet count, internal bleeding, etc.
  • Prognosis for heat stroke is poor to guarded. Death can occur within 24 hours.

What can your veterinarian do?

  • Active cooling to provide safe and controlled reduction of core body temperature
  • Frequent temperature monitoring to ensure body core temperature is not dropping too rapidly
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Fluid therapy to treat for signs of shock
  • Antibiotics to treat for potential systemic infection
  • Gastrointestinal protectants to protect the GI tract
  • Fresh frozen plasma transfusion for prolonged clotting times
  • Close monitoring of heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, clotting times, urine output, mention

How to prevent your dog from heat exhaustion or heat stroke?

If you have a dog with thick and long hair, or a brachycephalic breed, it may be wise to keep them indoor with air conditioning during excessive hot and humid conditions. All dogs should be adequately hydrated if they are outside in the heat and should be provided with frequent breaks in shaded area



Animal Specialty Group

VMD, Emergency + Critical Care

Dr. Stella Chu received her B.S. in Animal Science from Rutgers University and went on to University of Pennsylvania to attain her VMD. While the majority of her time is spent helping the animals in Emergency & Critical Care, Dr. Chu is also interested in veterinary hematology, immune-mediated diseases, and nephrology.