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Heatstroke - What Pet Parents Should Know to Keep Pets Safe

As I drove off to a pet sit yesterday, I watched as my barefoot neighbor tip-toed gingerly down his driveway to get the mail.  The scene was rather like watching a firewalker on hot coals only far less acrobatic. Because living in Florida in the summer is rather like living in an oven where you preheat in the morning, bake at noon and broil later in the day, most folks would never consider the driveway firewalk.  Yet, later in the morning, I saw that same neighbor walking his sweet, overweight English Bulldog, Millie down the road.  Millie was panting heavily and obviously struggling, but her parent  was oblivious to what was happening looking instead at his cellphone.  Millie tried to stop, but the owner kept on pulling her forward and Millie finally collapsed.  The parent, who truly does love his dog, was paralyzed not understanding what had happened or what to do.  Millie was experiencing heat stroke.  Luckily, we were able to quickly cool Millie down and immediately transport her to the vet for further treatment, but many times stories like these do not have happy endings.

Heatstroke is a very serious condition which requires immediate treatment. As summer heats up, pet parents need to understand that dogs do not tolerate high temperatures as well as humans.  While humans sweat to help control their temperatures, dogs sweat only minimally through the pads of their feet and have to rely on two other primary means of lowering their temperature.  Evaporation which occurs when they pant and conduction which happens when they lie on a cool surface like a tile floor. When the temperature and humidity go up, the air a dog is breathing heats up and panting becomes far less effective as a cooling mechanism.  Additionally, if a dog does not have shade or a cool place to rest then conduction or heat transfer isn’t possible and this mechanism also fails.

The key to having a safe summer with our furry friends is awareness.  For the most part a dog doesn’t just have a heat stroke, there are warning signs before that point is reached. Poor Millie, the Bulldog, was trying to let her parent know she was not doing well and if he had paid attention, she might not have had problems.  Heavy panting should be a key trigger for pet parents to pay attention.  The harder a dog is working to breath, the bigger their tongue becomes as the body tries to increase surface area to maximize air flow.  With some very active breeds, pet parents often overlook the subtle signs of heat exhaustion and misread panting as an indicator of the pup having a good time.  If every time they retrieve that ball or frisbee the return trip gets slower or if they are not responding quickly to commands, it is time to quit and get them a good drink and some shade.

If the early subtle indicators like heavy panting and restlessness are ignored, the symptoms become far less subtle. The dog will become weak and collapse, the progression will continue and include vomiting and diarrhea, often bloody, and in the final stages seizures and coma.  If left untreated, damage to almost every body system will occur and depending on how long treatment is delayed, this damage may be irreparable. Quick action is a key.



Like my neighbor, many pet parents would not know what to do if their own Millie went down in the heat.  A true heat stroke requires fast very aggressive treatment. The following are steps to follow if your dog begins to show signs of or experiences heat exhaustion which is a precursor to heat stroke:

·         Immediately get your dog out of the heat to a cool, shady space, air conditioning would be ideal.

·         Provide your pup with as much cool drinking water as they want.  Encourage, but don’t force them to drink.

·         Check to see if the mucous membranes in their mouths are bright red or their saliva appears “sticky” or thick.

·         If you can, monitor the dog’s rectal temperature.  If it is or rises above 1040, or they show a worsening of any other symptoms, you need to begin rapid cooling.  This can be done by:

o   If available you can put your dog in a pool, lake or bathtub.  If these are not available, a hose will work as long as you run any hot water in the hose out before hosing the dog.

o   Place a towel over the dog and continually soak it with cool water (not cold) – fanning the towel with another will increase cooling. Towels should cover the head, neck, chest and groin.  Cool packs can be applied to the groin if available.

o   Place the dog on a cool surface such as tile and have a fan blow on them.

o   The goal is to get your pups temperature down (below 1030) in the first 10-15 minutes. While it might be very tempting to use ice water to speed up cooling this can actually lead to shock and a slowing of the cooling process.  The objective is slow steady cooling.

When your pup experiences the signs and symptoms of heat stroke even if they seem to recover, cool them and immediately transport to your vet so they can be checked and receive further treatment if necessary.  Some problems associated with overheating do not show up for hours or even days after the incident and many of these can have serious implications for your best friend’s health.


Beyond paying attention and being aware, there are things pet parents can do to prevent heat related problems with their furry family members some of which are common sense.

·         Restrict the amount of exercise or vigorous outdoor activity on hot humid days. Try to exercise in the cooler parts of the day like early mornings and after sunset.

·         Always be aware and avoid walking pups on asphalt or concrete which can burn their pads.

·         Significantly limit outdoor time for dogs with breathing issues or brachycephalic breeds like pugs, boxers, bulldogs and shih tzus.  These dogs are at greater risk by virtue of their anatomy which makes heat exchange more difficult as they pant.

·         Never leave a dog in a parked car even if it is parked in the shade with windows cracked.  The temperature in a car can rise in minutes to dangerous levels.

·         When outside with your pup make sure they always have access to shade and cool water.  If you hike with your buddy be sure to carry plenty of water for both of you and take frequent breaks in shady areas.

·         As summer approaches and temperatures rise, acclimate both you and your buddy gradually to the changing temperatures.



If your family spends lots of time outdoors and you want your pup with you, besides making sure they always have shade and plenty of cool water, there are some things you can purchase that will help keep them cooler.   Agility competitors have long taken advantage of products designed to keep their canine athletes cool.  Clean Run (, an agility supply catalog, has an entire section devoted to Shade and Cooling.  You can find shade cloths and tarps, cooling coats and mats/beds, cooling towels and vehicle ventilating aids. 

One particularly popular coat is the Chilly Buddy which sports a reflective outer surface with a mesh cotton underside that can be wetted.  The reflective outer surface keeps the wetted lining cooler longer than many other variations.  While many coats and vests can be effective, it is important that owners be aware that any clothing is continuing to provide cooling and does not lose effectiveness and begin to trap heat next to the dog.

Cooling pads are also a way to provide your pup relief at a family picnic in the park. While both water filled and gel pads are effective, gel pads allow for more mobility and have become increasingly popular.  One pad which has consistently received positive reviews is the Arf Pets Cooling Pad.  The pad works well and will keep pup cool for three hours and can be recharged in only 15 to 20 minutes. It is durable and this is one factor that needs to be considered with any pad especially for pups that are heavy chewers.  You can find many pads reviewed and rated on .  You can locate many of the pads reviewed and other cooling products on Amazon.

Whether it is a trip to the lake, a hike in the woods or a walk around the block, summer is a wonderful time to spend with our dogs.  Conscience awareness, careful planning and knowing when to quit are the keys to making sure those special times remain priceless memories.  You and your Millie can enjoy all summer has to offer by just remembering a summer hot dog is not always a good thing.