overheating & Heat Stroke

What’s The Best Way to Cool a Dog?

A recent study compared three mechanisms for cooling dogs after 15 min treadmill exercise in a room at 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) (5). Dogs that were dipped in water for 5 minutes at ambient temperature had cooled in 16 minutes. Dogs that were placed in a kennel on a cooling mat at 4 degrees C (39 degrees F) with a fan took 36 minutes to cool. And dogs that were just in a kennel with a fan took 48 minutes to cool down. The authors suggested that water immersion is a method for not only treating but also for preventing overheating when dogs exercise.” [1]

By Dr. Becker

“On an 85-degree day it takes only 10 minutes for the interior of your parked car to climb to 102 degrees. In a half hour, it can reach 120 degrees. And leaving windows partially open doesn't drop the temperature inside the vehicle. Keep in mind your dog has a higher body temp than you do and she can't cool down as efficiently as you do, either.

Some dogs are at higher risk for heat-related illness than others, including brachycephalic breeds (dogs with flat faces and short noses), older dogs, puppies, dogs that are ill or have a chronic health condition, dogs not used to warm weather, any dog left outside in hot weather, and dogs that are allowed to overexert themselves in the heat.

If you think your pet or any dog is experiencing heatstroke, you should take immediate action and move him to a cool area, preferably with air conditioning. At a minimum you should move him to a shady spot. Next, try to determine his condition. If he's standing, or if he's at least conscious and panting, offer him small amounts of water to drink and take his temperature if possible.”

“If his temp is 104ºF or lower, remain with him in a cool environment, watch him carefully and keep offering small drinks of water. A large volume of water all at once might cause him to vomit, which will add to the risk of dehydration. When he seems more comfortable, call your veterinarian for next steps. The vet may want to evaluate your dog even if he seems fully recovered.”

“If the dog is unable to stand on his own, is unresponsive to your voice, touch or the sight of you, or is having seizures, check for breathing and a heartbeat. At the same time, have someone contact a veterinary hospital (or make the call yourself if you're alone with your pet) to let them know you'll be bringing him in right away. It's important to alert the clinic you're on the way so they can prepare for your arrival.”

“Begin cooling your dog down by soaking his body with cool water – cool, but not cold. Use a hose, wet towels or any other source of cool water that is available. Take his temperature if possible. Concentrate the cooling water on his head, neck and in the areas underneath the front and back legs.”

“Carefully cool the tongue if possible, but don't let water run into the throat as it could get into the lungs. Never put water in the mouth of a dog that can't swallow on his own. Put a fan on him if possible — it will speed up the cooling process.”

“After a few minutes, re-check his temperature. If it's at or below 104ºF, stop the cooling process. Further cooling could lead to blood clotting or a too-low body temperature. Get the dog to a veterinary clinic right away, even if he seems to be recovering.”

It takes just six minutes for a dog to die in a hot car

“Our dogs have a higher body temp than we do, and less ability to cool down. Humans are covered with sweat glands, but a dog's are confined to her nose and the pads of her feet.”

“An overheating dog can only regulate her body temperature through panting, which isn't terribly efficient in hot weather. In a very short period of time, an overheated dog can suffer critical damage to her brain, heart, liver and nervous system.”


Crucially Important Aspects of Cooling in Cases of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in Cats and Dogs

  • Do NOT pour water into the mouth of a collapsed or unconscious pet, and don’t force any pet to drink water either.

  • Do NOT use ice water or an ice bath to cool an overheated pet. Doing so will lead to constriction of the blood vessels under the pet’s skin which will actually prevent the pet from cooling off.

  • Do NOT cool your pet too fast or too far – overcooling can be as disastrous as overheating.

  • Do monitor rectal temperature every 30-60 seconds.

  • Do stop cooling once rectal temperature reaches 103.5°F.

  • All pets suffering from heat stroke (and many suffering from heat exhaustion) still need to be evaluated by a veterinarian once your initial cooling measures have been completed.

How to Treat Heat Exhaustion in Dogs and Cats

  1. Move your pet into a safe, shady or air-conditioned environment to prevent injuries and further heat absorption.

  2. Offer small amounts of water frequently.

  3. Measure rectal temperature with a thermometer (preferably digital, rather than glass) and plenty of lube (you can also use water or saliva, if no lube is readily available). If your pet’s temperature is below 104°F, continue on to step #4 in this list. If his temperature is above 104°F, proceed to step #5 in the list below (treating heat stroke).

  4. Continue to monitor your pet and allow him to rest and drink small, frequent amounts of water.

  5. Once he is back to his normal self, return home with him, but continue to keep a close eye on him for the next 24 hours. Bring him for veterinary evaluation immediately if he doesn’t return back to his normal self or if there are any episodes of vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite or any other concerning signs.

How to Treat Heat Stroke in Dogs and Cats

  1. Move your pet into a safe, shady or an air-conditioned environment to prevent injuries and further heat absorption. Put a cool, wet towel or blanket underneath him.

  2. If he is alert enough and able to drink water, offer him small amounts frequently. You don’t want him drinking too much or too fast, as either of those can cause problems of their own.

  3. Check and take note of the time. This will be helpful when you arrive at the vet, and it will also keep you from performing first aid too long and unnecessarily delaying veterinary treatment.

  4. Measure rectal temperature with a thermometer (preferably digital, rather than glass) and plenty of lube (you can also use water or saliva, if no lube is readily available).

  5. If his temperature is above 104°F, begin cooling by spraying cool (not cold) water over their body. If you have a fan handy, you can turn it on and have it blow over him – this will improve evaporative cooling.

  6. Stop cooling once his temperature reaches 103.5°F.

  7. Check and take note of the time that cooling was stopped and at what temperature he was at when cooling was stopped.

  8. If there is a dry towel or blanket available, use it to dry your pet off slightly. This can help prevent continued and excessive cooling.

  9. Bring your pet immediately for veterinary evaluation and care. Ideally pre-cooling your car before getting you pet in and calling ahead to the veterinary hospital to let them know you’re on your way with a pet that has suffered heat stroke.