Overheating occurs when dogs can’t properly regulate their own body heat. What might seem like a bout of overly dramatic panting at first can quickly morph into a dangerous situation as your dog moves from heat exhaustion to heat stroke.
It’s important to understand that dogs feel elevated temperatures more acutely than we do. Once the temperature rises above 75°F, your dog’s body temperature starts rising fast. Factors like your dog’s age, weight, and breed play a large part in how quickly he might begin to overheat.
Here’s what to do immediately if you think your dog might be overheating.
0-15 Minutes In: Know the Signs
Knowing the signs of heat stroke can help you save your dog’s life. Heat stroke doesn’t happen in a snap; it’s a gradual process that’s best halted as quickly as possible. When you catch overheating early, it can usually be reversed without serious side effects.
Here are the signs your dog is starting to overheat:
- Excessive panting and/or drooling
- Erratic pulse
- White or pale gums that seem dry
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Confusion, lethargy, or sudden lack of coordination
- Rectal temperature of more than 103°F
15-30 Minutes In: Take Action Fast
The sooner you act, the easier it will be to help bring your dog’s temperature down. Quickly find access to cool water and use it to wet your dog down. Ideally, you’ll soak towels in the water then place them directly on your dog’s neck, under his armpits, and between his legs. Do NOT submerge your dog in ice water or completely in any kind of water to avoid damaging his cells or making it more difficult for him to breathe.
Give your dog plenty of fresh, cool water to drink. Do NOT force him to drink as this may cause him to suck the water into his lungs. If he’s reluctant to drink, try dropping a few drops of water onto his tongue; he will begin to drink once he’s cooled down a bit. Don’t give a dog who’s overheating ice.
As quickly as you can, get your dog to a cooler location such as a room with fans or a car with air conditioning.
30 Minutes-2 Hours In: Get to the Vet
If your dog overheated to the point you were had difficulty getting him to drink, his temperature went above 103°F, or he became in any way disoriented, it’s imperative you take him to the closest veterinarian’s office.
Heat stroke can be deadly, and it can happen suddenly once your dog’s temperature reaches a certain point and his body begins to malfunction. Cardiac arrhythmia can occur, his respiratory system can fail, or he may start to have seizures.
Your veterinarian will help you determine the best course of treatment, from restoring your dog’s electrolyte balance to inserting a breathing tube to assist his breathing. When possible, call the vet clinic ahead of time to let them know you’re on your way.
The best medicine against overheating is prevention. It’s easy enough to prevent your dog from overheating by keeping him in a climate controlled space when the temperature rises above 75°F. Don’t forget that dogs who are exercising (even walking) will have a higher internal temperature than dogs who aren’t.
Always make sure your dog has plenty of cool water to drink and shade to take refuge in. Never, ever leave your dog in a vehicle, even if the temperature outside feels comfortable to you!