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Hot Dog Summer: Preventing Heatstroke in the California Sun

Hot Dog Summer: Preventing Heatstroke in the California Sun

Heatstroke can be a life-threatening condition for dogs and requires immediate attention by a veterinarian. Here, our Upland vets share what you need to know about how to prevent heatstroke and what to do if you think your pet has been affected by it.


The medical term for heatstroke is heat prostration or hyperthermia, which means an increase in core body temperature caused by environmental conditions. Normal body temperatures for dogs hover around 99-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If a dog’s body temperature gets above 105, this becomes life-threatening in a hurry.

The Most Common Reasons for Heatstroke in Dogs

  • Dogs being left unattended in hot cars
  • Dogs strenuously exercising (hiking, running, or hunting)
  • Dogs being left outside for an extended amount of time in hot and/or humid weather

Signs Your Dog Has Heat Stroke

Dogs don’t sweat as humans do; they dissipate heat is by panting or breathing rapidly instead. This mechanism just isn’t enough to keep pace with extra heat built up in dangerously hot situations which makes dogs more susceptible to heatstroke than people are.

Here are some signs to look for with heatstroke:

  • excessive panting
  • staggering
  • acting off, as if in a stupor
  • very rapid heartbeat
  • bright red, blue, or dark tongue and/or gums
  • vomiting
  • bloody diarrhea

If you notice ANY of these signs, take your pet to a veterinarian immediately. This is a true veterinary emergency. Time is of the essence here guys!  While in transport to the vet, try to cool your pet down with cool, (NOT ice cold) wet towels on their abdomen, paws and neck. Don’t leave the towels on your pet, as it will only act as an insulating blanket to keep the warmth in. Also, make sure NOT to use super cold water. This will shock the system and cause vasoconstriction, which actually will keep your dog warmer.

Preventing Heat Stroke:

  • Never leave a dog alone in a car, not even in the shade with the windows cracked: Studies have shown that even on cooler days, the temperature inside a car can rise by as much as 40 degrees within one hour
  • Some breeds of dogs are actually more predisposed to heatstroke. The most prone breeds, due to their special airways, are what I affectionately call the “squishy-faced” ones (aka brachycephalic!), such as English and French bulldogs, Boston terriers, Boxers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Shih Tzus, and mastiffs. If you own one of these breeds, be EXTRA careful about the situations you put them in. What may not cause heatstroke in one dog, may cause heatstroke in your squishy-faced dog.
  • If you must leave your dog outside for hours in the heat, be sure to provide plenty of shade and water. A baby pool for a dog left outside may help, as they can cool themselves down by jumping in! There are also special cooling vests for dogs available that can help.
  • There are some conditions that may predispose a dog to heat stroke, including being overweight and heart conditions. Be sure to keep your yearly checkup with your veterinarian to address chronic diseases early on.
  • Remember that working dogs (or even professional squirrel-chasing dogs, like my own) may get so focused and into their job that they forget to rest. They may also get so excited in a new environment while hunting or hiking that they won’t want to take a break. Remember that it is up to you as an owner to help your dog know when to stop and cool down!

Hopefully, you now have some tools to recognize and prevent heatstroke, but emergencies can still be impossible to predict. The emergency vets at Inland Valley Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Center are here for you and your pet, 24/7, 365 days a year. Contact us in the event of any emergency. 

New Patients Welcome

Inland Valley Veterinary Specialists & Emergency Center is accepting new patients! Our experienced veterinarians care passionately about the health and well-being of Upland companion animals. Get in touch today to book your cat or dog's first appointment.

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