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Recognize the signs of heat stress in your dog

By Leah Call

Photography from

Dogs love to be with their humans. In summer that might be at the beach, hiking through the park, or outside working around the farm. Wherever you are with your canine companion, it’s important to recognize the signs of heat stress and take steps to prevent it. “Owners that are in tune with their dogs will notice that something is off; maybe their dog is not being as responsive as normal,” says veterinarian Dr. Katyryna Fleer, medical director for VIP Petcare and Tractor Supply’s PetVet program. “Definitely, excess panting is one of the first signs you’ll see.” Dogs cool themselves through panting, but as external temperatures rise, they may struggle to regulate their internal temperature. Excessive drooling is another early sign of heat stress.

“When it gets worse, if owners aren’t paying really close attention to their dogs for one reason or another, we start to see their heart rate increase, some dizziness, lack of coordination. Some can even get feverish,” Fleer notes. More severe symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, and convulsions. Heat exhaustion progresses rapidly and can result in serious complications. “So those early signs are really what we want to pay attention to as much as possible,” advises Fleer.

If your dog exhibits symptoms of heat exhaustion, first cool them down gradually in a tub of cool water or other water source or douse them with a garden hose. A lack of fluids causes hypovolemic shock — when fluids drop so low that the heart can’t pump enough blood to the body — and a drop in blood pressure. “Dogs, like people, get dehydrated, and it can affect their kidneys. They can have gastrointestinal complications. They can also have neurologic complications,” notes Fleer. “And it all stems on that blood pressure just not getting blood to the right places.”

After cooling your dog, get him to a veterinarian, who likely will give him IV fluid therapy laced with minerals. “There is no drug to treat heat stroke. It is really just managing them, keeping them at a steady body temperature, and watching their vitals really carefully,” explains Fleer. “Typically, they will come through it pretty well, unless they are in a really bad spot.” Breeds with short noses — pugs, shih tzus, bulldogs, and boxers — are at greater risk of heat stress. Older dogs, overweight dogs, those with health issues, working dogs, and thick-haired dog breeds can also be susceptible to heat stress. 

Fleer suggests clipping thick coats, especially for dogs that have jobs, and providing access to fresh water at all times. Never, ever, leave your dog in a hot car or dog crate. And if you’re walking your dog on a hot day, rest periods are essential, especially for the short-nosed breeds. “Chill out on a park bench for a while,” Fleer says. “We all need breaks, but they tend to need more.” ★  

Leah Call is a Wisconsin writer.


Hot surfaces — asphalt, pavement — can burn a dog’s paws, Dr. Katyryna Fleer warns. “Put your hands or a bare foot on the pavement for 10 seconds,” she suggests. “If it is too hot for you, it is too hot for the dog.”