Heatstroke is one of the more common emergencies you may encounter.  Caused by increased environmental temperatures (among other factors), heatstroke can be life threatening.  It is important to be aware of the steps below so that you can recognize the signs of heatstroke and also know what to do if it happens to an animal in your care.

Be aware of the temperature. It helps to know what the temperature is at the time of the dog’s symptoms. You may want to write down the temperature as well as the conditions (ie: direct sunlight) and the dog’s activity level prior to and at the start of symptoms so that you can communicate this information to a veterinarian.

  • In the event of a dog being trapped in an area such as a car, you may not know the exact temperature, but if you note that it felt much hotter than the outdoor temperature of 90 degrees, a vet may have enough information to effectively assess and treat the dog.

Watch for initial heat stroke symptoms. Catching a heat stroke in its early stages can help prevent permanent damage to your dog’s internal organs. Some early signs of heat stroke include:

  • Excessive or loud panting
  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent vomiting
  • A bright red tongue and pale gums
  • Skin around muzzle or neck doesn’t snap back when pinched
  • Thick saliva
  • Increased heart rate

Look out for signs of worsening heat stroke. The dog’s heat stroke can be worsening if he begins to exhibit any of the following:

  • Increased difficulty breathing
  • Gums that turn bright red, then blue or purple
  • Weakness and/or fatigue
  • Disorientation
  • Collapse or coma

Take the dog’s temperature. One of the best ways to assess whether the dog’s internal temperature is elevated is to take his temperature rectally. A dog’s temperature is normally between 99.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. A dog is overheated if his temperature is 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. A temperature of 109 °F (42.8 °C) is usually fatal. 

  • Obtain a digital rectal thermometer (preferably one made for pets)
  • Lubricate it with a lubricant such as petroleum or KY jelly
  • Ask a helper to hold the dog by holding the head and front part of the body
  • Locate the rectum and lift the tail for access
  • Carefully insert the thermometer into the rectum about one inch (2.5cm); do not let go of it.
  • Wait until the digital thermometer beeps. When this happens, carefully remove the thermometer and read the temperature
  • Write down the dog’s temperature so that you can communicate it to a veterinarian