Everything You Need To Know About Heat Exhaustion In Dogs

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heat exhaustion in dogs

It can be pretty scary if your dog suddenly gets sick while playing outside.

If this happens, it’s possible your dog is suffering from heat exhaustion.

Heat exhaustion in dogs is a medical emergency, and it can happen pretty quickly, so it’s super important to know when your pup is overheating and needs to go to the vet.

We spoke with Dr. Cristina Bustamante, an associate veterinarian with Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Florida and founder of Dr. B Vet, to find out everything you need to know about heat exhaustion in dogs, including symptoms, causes, treatment, prevention and why it’s so dangerous in the first place.

What is heat exhaustion in dogs?

“Heat exhaustion in dogs is when their body temperature becomes too elevated, usually because of an external heat source,” Dr. Bustamante told The Dodo.

If your dog has heat exhaustion, his internal temperature is beyond a healthy range.

“Above 102.5 [degrees] Fahrenheit is too high,” Dr. Bustamante said. “A normal temperature is from 100.5 to 102.5 [degrees]. That's normal.”

Things like stress and excitement can cause tiny temperature jumps, but heat exhaustion happens when your dog experiences a dramatic spike.

“If your dog is excited, you know, or nervous, maybe the temperature could go up to 102.8 [degrees]. That's fine,” Dr. Bustamante said. “When it starts causing trouble is when they go up to, like, 104 [degrees].”

What causes heat exhaustion in dogs?

Heat exhaustion in dogs is caused by physical exertion or heat, which can force their body temperatures too high.

Some situations that can cause heat exhaustion in dogs include things like:

“Don't leave your dog in the car, ever,” Dr. Bustamante said. “It can happen really quickly.”

Dogs aren’t great at regulating their own body temperatures. The only way dogs can sweat is through their paw pads, which isn’t super effective at keeping them cool.

“So the way that dogs regulate their temperature is by panting,” Dr. Bustamante said, which actually isn’t that effective either.

Since dogs rely on mostly panting to keep them cool, brachycephalic (aka short-nosed) dogs are naturally more susceptible to heat exhaustion.

“Flat-faced dogs tend to have more difficulty breathing, panting, so they are more likely to overheat because they can't pant as well as other longer-nosed dogs,” Dr. Bustamante said.

A pup’s coat can also make him more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion.

“Dogs with long hair, just because they have a big coat, also are more likely to get too hot,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Fevers can also cause an elevated body temperature, but they’re different from heat exhaustion since the heat source is coming from an infection.

“I want to make a distinction, which is [with] a fever, there's something inside the dog that's causing them to have elevated temperatures, such as an infection, for example,” Dr. Bustamante said. “But when they get heat exhaustion, it's usually something outside of the body that's making their body temperature rise.”

Signs of heat exhaustion in dogs

If your dog is experiencing heat exhaustion, he might show signs like:

  • Excessive panting
  • Feeling hot to the touch
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Having red gums
  • Being quiet or unresponsive
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Seizures

If you notice any of these signs of heat exhaustion in your dog, take him to the vet right away.

Heat exhaustion gets more serious the longer it goes untreated, and can even be fatal in some cases.

“​​It actually starts damaging their organs,” Dr. Bustamante said. “So dogs do die of heat exhaustion.”

Heat stroke vs. heat exhaustion in dogs

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are almost the same thing, but, in dogs, heat exhaustion is technically a milder version of heat stroke.

The biggest difference between a dog diagnosed with heat exhaustion and heat stroke is that dogs with heat stroke show severe neurological changes and can have organ damage,” Dr. Bustamante said.

According to Dr. Bustamante, a dog with heat exhaustion will show signs like:

  • Weakness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Vomiting

But with heat stroke, dogs will experience more extreme symptoms, including:

  • Unresponsiveness
  • Coma

How to help a dog with heat exhaustion

The best way to help a dog with heat exhaustion is to bring him to the vet.

“I would take them to the vet,” Dr. Bustamante said. “It's an emergency. You should take them to the vet.”

You might feel inclined to handle this on your own, but heat exhaustion in dogs is a medical emergency, so your vet is the best person who can help your dog.

“You shouldn't take them home to try to cool them down,” Dr. Bustamante said.

That’s because the vet has many more resources than you do at home that can keep heat exhaustion from getting worse.

“At the vet, the things they'll do differently is that they can apply an IV catheter and provide fluids to help hydrate,” Dr. Bustamante said. “But at the same time, it also helps the temperature.”

On top of spiking his body temperature, heat exhaustion also affects your pup’s breathing. The vet will be able to help get his breathing back to normal.

“They'll provide oxygen, because what can also happen and what is very dangerous is that the dog is so hot that they'll be panting excessively,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Then they can also feel like they can't breathe appropriately. And then they become very stressed out because they're panting and they can't breathe. So it becomes just worse.”

When you first notice your pup showing signs of heat exhaustion, there are some things you can do to help cool him down while you’re getting ready to head to the vet.

“You can use a sponge or a wet towel or wet T-shirt ... and try to cool them that way,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Try to use it around their abdomen. You can do their paws. Offer them water if they want to drink water.”

Just make sure the water you use isn’t super cold, because that’ll do more harm than good.

“They shouldn't be placed in ice cold water,” Dr. Bustamante said. “If they're too hot and you put [them in] ice cold water, it constricts their veins, their vessels, and it makes it even harder for their blood to cool their organs.”

If your dog’s temperature gets below 103 degrees Fahrenheit (it’s a good idea to keep a thermometer handy), you don’t need to continue cooling your dog by applying water to his body — since it can be dangerous if he gets too chilly.

How to prevent heat exhaustion in dogs

The best way to prevent heat exhaustion in your dog is by keeping him out of situations that’ll cause him to overheat.

“Long walks or exercise should be done during cool times of the day,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Make water available at all times at home and in your backyard for your dog to drink because they also regulate the[ir] temperature by drinking water.”

Dog water bottles are great to help you hydrate your pup anywhere.

Try this water bottle from Amazon for $19

And if you stock up on water bowls, you can keep some both inside and outside your home so your dog always has access to them.

Like these stainless steel bowls from Amazon for $17

And now that you know how to prevent, spot and treat heat exhaustion, you and your dog can have some fun in the sun.

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