Will Your Dog Survive the Summer Sun?

by Honey Wesley

As a 10 year old child, I watched helplessly one hot August day as my beloved boxer, Duke, died in my arms. Four decades later, I still have that memory painfully etched in my mind. We didn't learn until after the fact that Duke had died of a heat stroke. Even more painful was the realization that, had we known what to look for, we could have taken measures to possibly prevent his death. In honor of his memory, I want to share vital information that may keep your dog from suffering Duke's fate.

What is heat stroke?

Too much time exposed to the dangerous combination of increased temperature and humidity can lead to a heat stroke. A mammal's body (and that includes humans, too) can only tolerate temperatures up to about 107 degrees before cells start dying. The higher the temperature, the faster this occurs. The longer the body remains at an elevated temperature, the less chance there is for recovery. Heat stroke can occur very quickly, given the right set of circumstances, and if too much time has elapsed, even your best efforts may not be enough to keep your dog alive.

Is my dog at risk for heat stroke?

Any dog can fall victim to heat stroke, but hot weather is especially hard on puppies and older dogs, (they have a harder time regulating their body temperature), short-nosed breeds, (like pugs, pekes, boxers and bulldogs), overweight dogs, those with heart or lung problems, and dogs recently moved from a cooler climate. These risk factors increase if your dog doesn't have enough water, if he's in an enclosed space or is exposed too long to direct sunlight.

How can I recognize heat stroke?

Heat stroke causes dogs to pant rapidly and heavily, the body's defense in an effort to lower the core temperature. Their eyes may be open abnormally wide, and they may appear to stare blankly, ignoring your commands. They may drool excessively and stagger weakly. The gums will appear pale and dry and eventually, if left untreated, the animal will collapse into unconsciousness.

What should I do if my dog has a heat stroke?

If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke and you're close to a vet or animal hospital, put him in the car, crank the air conditioning all the way up and get him there as soon as possible. They're the ones best equipped to handle your dog's recovery. If that's not possible, you must try to reduce your dog's temperature yourself. Get him to a shady area and either put him in a tub of cool (not cold) running water, or spray him with a hose. Be sure the water penetrates his coat and wets the skin beneath. Run it over his tongue and mouth, inside the legs and on his stomach. Remember that small dogs will cool down more quickly than larger breeds. Take your dog to a vet as soon as you can.

Hopefully your dog will never suffer a life-threatening heat stroke. If he does, at least now you know the signs and symptoms to be aware of, and the measures you can take that will offer him the best chances for a full and total recovery.


Note: This section of the Canada's Guide to Dogs website is intended as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters.