With extended daylight and warm weather, summer can be a great time to get active with your pet. However, it’s important to be aware of the dangers of heatstroke – a life-threatening condition, caused by the elevation of a dog’s body temperature. While people can also suffer heatstroke, the risk is much greater for dogs as they only perspire around their paws and nose (which is not sufficient alone to cool their body). The most effective means for a dog to expel excess heat is panting, which moves cool air through the nasal passages and around the body. If a dog doesn’t have access to cool air – either because of high outside temperatures or a confined environment – they are at risk of overheating.

Risks for Heatstroke

The biggest risk for heatstroke is the dog’s immediate environment. If your dog is in very humid conditions or a confined space without fresh air (such as a car), they will quickly overheat. Brachycephalic breeds of dogs (those with short muzzles e.g. Bulldogs and Pugs) are also more prone to heatstroke because their nasal passages are smaller and it is more difficult for them to circulate sufficient air for cooling.

Early signs of heatstroke include:

  • High body temperature (more than 40 degrees)
  • Distress
  • Excessive panting
  • Excess saliva
  • Bluish-purple or bright red gums, due to inadequate oxygen supply to the tissues.

First Aid

If your dog’s body temperature reaches above 40 degrees or it is exhibiting the above symptoms, apply immediate first aid. The most important thing is to get their body temperature down to a normal level.

  1. Cool your pet on your way to the vet. Get them in the car to the vet and run the air conditioning to keep them cool. You can also use a spray bottle to lightly cool them with water. Do not submerge your pet in ice water as this can be more dangerous.
  2. Get them drinking. If your dog is able to drink, give them a large bowl of water.
  3. Seek veterinary attention. Heatstroke is a serious condition that requires immediate attention and intensive care is generally required to save your pet’s life. Intravenous fluids cool the body, maintain blood pressure, support the kidney system and generally help speed recovery. Any initial home treatment greatly increases the chance of surviving but it is only in mild cases that the initial home treatment is sufficient.


Fortunately, heatstroke is a preventable condition. By following the tips below, you’ll be well on the way to ensuring your dog stays safe this summer:

  • Never leave your pet unattended in a car. Within ten minutes, a closed car can reach temperatures of 45 degrees. In such temperatures, a dog is unable to shed its extra heat and may quickly suffer dehydration and heatstroke. If you are getting out of the car, take your dog with you.
  • Keep your dog well hydrated. Ensure your dog always has easy access to fresh water. Water dishes should be placed in the shade or kept cold (frozen water bottles and ice are handy). Dogs also have a tendency to knock water over, so it’s recommended you have a few bowls in different places.
  • Carry water.  When exercising your dog, take a collapsible water dish and bottle or take a route where you know your dog will have access to clean water.
  • Provide shade. If your dog lives outside during the summer months, make sure they have adequate shade to shelter from the sun and keep cool.
  • Avoid walking on hot days. During the summer months, walk your dog in the morning or evening when temperatures are lower. Temperatures below 25 degrees are optimum. Also, beware of the hot pavement so you don’t burn their paws.

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