Heatstroke in Dogs

Heatstroke sounds fairly innocuous but is a fatal condition in dogs, as they cannot lose body heat by sweating as we humans do. Body temperature may be increased because of an infection (fever), but it may also increase because of hot and/or humid conditions outside. An increased body temperature caused by environmental conditions is commonly referred to as hyperthermia or heatstroke.

Living in a warm climate such as Bali, it is especially important owners are educated about this danger. Each month a couple of cases of heat stroke are brought to Sunset Vet, and the only chance of survival is to intervene medically before the situation is beyond the point of no return. Heatstroke a life threatening condition and requires immediate treatment.

A dog’s normal body temperature is 38.3-39.2°C and any time the body temperature is higher than 40°C, a true emergency exists. Heatstroke generally occurs when dogs are left with inadequate ventilation in hot vehicles. However, it may also occur in other situations, including:

  • When the dog is left outdoors in hot/humid conditions without adequate shade
  • When the dog is exercised in hot/humid weather
  • When left in a car on a relatively cool day, the temperature inside a vehicle may actually increase by 5 degrees Celsius within one hour


There are other factors that can also make a dog predisposed to heatstroke:

  • Obesity
  • Short nosed breeds with breathing difficulties such as pugs, bulldogs etc.
  • Dogs with cardiac or respiratory diseases


How can I tell if my dog has heatstroke?

Initially your dog will just appear a little distressed, panting excessively and becoming restless. As the body temperature increases, the dog may start hyper salivating and drool saliva from the nose and/or mouth. The dog may be unsteady on his/her feet, or lie down and be reluctant to stand up or move. If you lift the dog’s lip and inspect the gums, you may see a change in colour away from the normal pale pink to become a bluish purple or a bright brick red. This is due to poor oxygen delivery.

Sometimes it is not easy to differentiate between a hot and tired dog panting after exercise, and a dog developing or suffering from heat stroke. The former should recover back to normal within a few minutes of being given water and a cool place to rest; the latter will remain lethargic despite this.


What should I do if my dog might have heatstroke?

Firstly you should remove your dog from the environment where the hyperthermia occurred. Move your dog to a shaded and cool environment, and direct a fan onto him/her.

Offer your dog a bowl of fresh cool water, but do not force him/her to drink it if he/she is not interested in it.

If at all possible, insert a thermometer into the dog’s rectum (at least a centimeter inside) to measure the rectal temperature, and write it down with the time. Note that if it is ‘upper normal’ there is still the possibility that you caught it early and it is on the rise, so it is wise to repeat the measurement 30 minutes later.

Begin to cool the body by placing cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, in the armpits, and in the groin region. You may also wet the earflaps and paws with cool water. Directing a fan on these wetted areas will help to speed evaporative cooling. If your dog is not returning to his/her normal energetic self by now, transport to your closest veterinary clinic immediately.

Although rapid cooling is vital, be careful not to ‘overcool’ your dog. Most dogs with hyperthermia have body temperatures greater than 40°C, and a reasonable goal of cooling is to reduce your pet’s body temperature to 39°C while transporting him/her to the closest veterinary clinic. If you try to aim for 38°C there is a change you will overshoot the mark and end up with a hypothermic dog. Do not leave your dog unattended for any length of time, as dogs with heatstroke can deteriorate very quickly.


Is it enough to cool my dog at home or do I have to bring him/her to a vet clinic?

Severe heatstroke is a disease that affects nearly every system in the body. Simply lowering the body temperature fails to address the potentially catastrophic events that often accompany this condition. Dogs with heatstroke need to be on IV fluids and may need intermittent blood tests to evaluate organ function and electrolyte levels.

Symptoms of heat stroke that carry a poor prognosis include seizures and vomiting blood and/or bloody diarrhea. Once a dog has reached this stage, it is very difficult to turn the situation around, as a chain reaction of multi-organ failure has begun.

A dog suffering from hyperthermia should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, any delays are putting the dog’s life at risk.


What additional steps can I take to prevent my dog from getting heatstroke here in Bali?

  • If your dog is a pedigree breed with a long coat, it is safer to keep the coat clipped short. Not only does it reduce the risk of heat stroke, it also makes your dog less likely to suffer from skin problems and is generally more comfortable for your dog.
  • Never leave a dog in a locked car in Bali, even with the window open the car can quickly become like a sauna.
  • Always ensure your dog has fresh, clean water to drink at all times, and a place to lie in the shade.
  • Avoid exercising your dog during the hottest times of the day.
  • Be aware of the signs of heat stroke and what to do if they occur.


Sunset Vet offers veterinary services via their Kuta (24hr) and Ubud (8am-10pm) clinics. For further information or to make an appointment call them on 03619348915 (Kuta) or 0361975296 (Ubud), or visit www.sunsetvetbali.com or www.facebook.com/sunsetvetbali or Instagram: sunset_vet_bali


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