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Image of a dog in the park for article on heat stroke in dogs

Heat stroke in dogs: is your dog panting a lot?

Is your dog panting a lot? Excessive panting can be a sign of heat stroke.

Heat stroke occurs when a dog’s body temperature gets too high. Unlike humans, who can sweat freely and all over their bodies, dogs can only sweat through their noses and the bottoms of their paws. Instead, they cool themselves down by breathing out warm air and taking in cooler air through their mouth and tongue, also known as panting.

Heat stroke occurs when dogs can’t cool themselves down effectively. As their body temperature continues to rise, their organs begin to shut down. Severe heat stroke can be fatal.

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What are the symptoms of heat stroke?

Your dog may be suffering from heat stroke if they display any of these signs:

  • Fast, heavy breathing or panting
  • A bright red tongue
  • Sticky gums
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Pressing their head to the wall
  • Circling
  • General restlessness
  • Dizziness – they may appear lethargic, drowsy or slow

These symptoms can belong to other problems or conditions but if they occur during a warm day, the cause is likely to be heat stroke.

Prevention: how to avoid heat exhaustion in dogs

With preparation and a few changes to your routine, you can drastically reduce the chance of your dog getting heat stroke:

  • Ensure your dog has access to shade at all times
  • Bring water out on walks, for your dog as well as for you
  • Avoid walking your dog at hotter parts of the day
  • When out walking, take regular stops in shaded areas 
  • Use sun cream on dogs with pale or thin fur
  • Don’t walk your dog on a pavement that’s too hot
  • NEVER leave them alone in the car

Vet's view

By Lizzie Youens BSc(Hons) BVSc MRCVS

I was spending a sunny July weekend on-call at the veterinary hospital, and had been hearing the noise of the town summer fete all morning. That afternoon, an elderly Pug was rushed in, and I could hear his laboured breathing before I even got into the consulting room. The whole family had been at the fete, and although they’d taken a water bowl for the dogs and tried to keep in the shade, he’d become very lethargic and then suddenly collapsed.

I assessed him immediately. Large amounts of thick saliva were coming from his mouth, and his breathing was very laboured and fast. A high heart rate, abnormal gum colour and an extremely high rectal temperature confirmed a diagnosis of heat stroke. He was extremely weak and I was very concerned about him. Flat-faced (brachcephalic) dogs are more susceptible to heat-related illness, and his elderly body was under severe strain.

A busy and worrying few hours followed, with him under continual assessment. Initially, he started to seizure and I thought we might be too late to save him. However, with some intense active cooling with fans, ice packs, cold water and intravenous fluids, as well as some medication to control the seizures and stop the muscle tremors, his vital signs gradually returned to normal, but it was a close call for what should have been a fun day out at the fete.  

My dog has heat stroke. What do I do?

First things first, don’t panic. Act quickly but stay calm. Visibly worried behaviour will affect your dog and cause their body temperature to rise further.

Seek shade – your first action should be to remove your dog from any direct sunlight.

Cool first, transport second - Studies have revealed that the best methods to treat heat stroke are to immerse your dog in cold water and use evaporative cooling. Putting a young, healthy dog in water can cool them down rapidly. If your dog is older or has health issues, pour water over them and aim a fan or cool breeze at them.

Offer drinking water – do this in small amounts so it enters your dog’s body gradually.

Note: you’ll see from these steps that it’s very important to bring water out on a walk with you during hot days.

If symptoms persist – contact your vet and bring your pet in as soon as you can.

Need more info?

If you’re concerned about keeping your dog protected during hot weather, have a chat with your vet.

Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.