How to deal with heat strokes in dogs

How to Deal with Heat Strokes In Dogs

So, how do you deal with heat strokes in dogs?

Lucky for you, I just refreshed my knowledge on that topic!

That’s because yesterday, I took a refresher workshop in pet first aid in my capacity as a professional dog walker and pet sitter.

Including hands on CPR practice on a K9 dummy!

K9 Pet First Aid Dummy

The workshop was taught by Dr. Brian Lapham, DVM, of Southpoint Animal Hospital in Durham, NC.

Of course he pointed out that older dogs, overweight dogs, as well as brachycephalic breeds like Pugs and English Bulldogs are especially prone to overheating. And you probably already know that.

But it’s also important to understand that any dog can get affected by heat.

Especially when they exercise excessively in warm weather!

Now, of course we all hope that we’ll never experience heat stroke in our dogs, but it’s good to know what to do in case it happens.

Because if we know what measures to take to lower our dog’s body temperature, we’ll be less stressed out and more likely to actually help our dogs survive it.

OK, ready to learn? Let’s jump right in!

How to Deal with Heat Strokes In Dogs

How to deal with heat strokes in dogs

Disclaimer: This blog post was originally published in 2015 and has been updated in 2023. It contains affiliate links I may earn compensation through at no additional cost to you. 

Take A Pet First Aid Workshop

So as I mentioned in the intro, I just took Dr. Lapham’s refresher pet first aid class.

That said, I’ve taken a pet first aid & maintenance class before, but it had been a while.

So this workshop was a welcome reminder of how to prevent and deal with common pet emergencies, including heat strokes in dogs!

First Aid Class Certificate

I highly recommend taking a pet first aid class/workshop ~ it’s really interesting & you DO learn a lot.

The Red Cross offers online pet first aid classes.

You can also check in with your vet or your dog boarding/daycare facility.

They should be able to point you in the right direction!

Get A Pet First Aid Book

I have an excellent book that covers various aspects of dog (& cat) emergencies.

That said, I recommend you have one close-by for potential emergencies. For example, the one by Amy Shojai.

SHOJAI, AMY D.: The First Aid Companion for Dogs & Cats. RODALE INC: 2001.

It’s also available as an audiobook, but I definitely recommend a paperback version. That way, you can easily look something up in case of an emergency.

The first aid companion for dogs and cats by Amy Shojai

Signs of Heat Stroke In Dogs

As far as symptoms, the following are pretty good indicators that your dog is suffering from an acute case of heat stroke:

  • Heavy, excessive panting in combination with increased heart rate
  • Pale gums & bright red tongue 
  • Vomiting & diarrhea 
  • Increased salivation 
  • Unconsciousness
  • Lethargy 

Taking Action

Check your dog’s vital signs to correctly assess the gravity of the emergency.

Side note: If your dog is panting extremely hard, has glassy eyes, and is unconscious, take him to the nearest vet right away.

Don’t waste time measuring his vitals at that point!

But here’s what to do if your dog is not unconscious.

1. Measure Your Dog’s Body Temperature

Measure your dog’s temperature with a digital rectal pet thermometer, using a lubricant. For example, vaseline petroleum jelly or a specific medical lubricant for dogs.

It usually beeps once when it has taken the temperature.

A dog’s normal body temperature is between 101 – 103 degrees Fahrenheit.

Any dog with a core body temperature above 104ºF needs to be seen by a vet right away.

2. Feel Their Pulse

A large dog’s normal heart rate is between 60-100 beats per minute, and a small dog’s heart beats between 100-140 times per minute.

Puppies and young dogs under 12 months of age have an even more elevated heart rate of about 180 beats per minute.

Dogs who are in excellent physical shape and work out on a regular basis will have a lower heart beat either way.

To count your dog’s heart beats, place your hand over your dog’s heart. It sits on the left side, and you can also feel it beating behind the front leg.

Do this for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4 in order to know how fast it beats within one minute.

Alternatively, you can place 2 fingers on your dog’s femoral artery to feel his pulse.

You can feel the artery on the inner thigh of the hind legs in the groin area.

3. Measure Your Dog’s Respiratory Rate

A dog who isn’t excited or physically exhausted breathes between 10-35 times per minute.

You can measure your dog’s breathing rate by observing his flank movements, or by holding a wet finger right in front of his nostrils.

You’ll feel his breath on your finger every times he exhales.

Heat Stroke In Dogs Treatment

If your pooch suffers from a mild case of heat exhaustion, you should be able to treat him at home.

However, a follow up visit at your vet’s office is still advisable.

First off, get Fido out of the heat and into a cool area.

Next, cool your dog’s belly and paws to help lower his body temperature.

Depending on your dog’s size, you can do this by placing your pup into a bathtub or sink with cold water.

You can also hose him off with the garden hose outside.

Alternatively, place ice packs or frozen bags of vegetables on your dog’s belly.

I’ve used frozen veggie bags on my pup Buzz before to cool him off after playtime in the summer heat. This boy never knew when to stop playing.

Cooling my dog Buzz off after playtime in the summer heat

Don’t use too much ice for too long, as ice makes the blood vessels shrink! 

I learned this valuable piece of information in yesterday’s pet first aid workshop.

Offer cool water, but don’t force any water down your dog’s mouth, since he could choke on it.

If he’s not able to drink on his own, he definitely needs to be rushed to the vet asap!

Once the core body temperature has dropped down to 103ºF/39.4ºC, you can stop the cooling process in order to avoid the opposite effect of hypothermia.

That’s when the body temperature drops below 98ºF/36.7ºC.

You’ll also notice that your dog’s panting will significantly decrease.

Supervision as Prevention

Always supervise your dog to avoid him getting affected by heat stroke.

That includes never leaving him alone in a car during the hot summer months, even if the windows are cracked.

The interior of a car heats up incredibly fast and will feel like a hot oven to Fido, with the potential to kill him.

How to Deal with Heat Strokes In Dogs: Bottom Line

Ideally, you’ll want to prevent heat strokes in dogs.

However, life happens, so it’s best to be prepared and know what to do in case of a doggie emergency like that.

On that note, I strongly recommend taking a pet first aid workshop, or at least watching a few YouTube videos on heat strokes in dogs.

Also, invest in a pet emergency book like the one I mentioned by Amy Shojai.

When you suspect that your dog suffers from an acute case of heat stroke, remove them from the heat and cool them off with ice packs. Frozen veggie bags work too.

Offer them water, but don’t force any water down their throats to prevent choking.

If they’re already unconscious, take them to the nearest vet right away!

Have you experienced a case of K9 heat stroke? How did you handle it? As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below this blog post!

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.


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7 responses to “How to Deal with Heat Strokes In Dogs”

  1. Kate Obrien Avatar
    Kate Obrien

    Great post – and timely too with summer coming on.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thank you, Kate ~ we’re already at that point where playtime & exercise around lunchtime & the afternoon isn’t possible due to the high temperatures!

  2. Elaine Avatar

    Heat stroke would be a really scary situation to deal with but it’s good to know what to do in case in happens. I’ve been meaning to buy that First Aid book. I have to do that tonight so I don’t forget again, lol!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Yes, knowing what to do in a specific situation will definitely make it easier to deal with. A completely stressed out human won’t be of much help. ~ Did you end up getting the book last night?!

      1. Elaine Avatar

        Yes, I finally ordered the book! It hasn’t arrived yet, but I looking forward to checking it out when it comes. Thanks for the recommendation, Barbara. 🙂

        1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

          Yay, I’m happy for you! You’ll love the book!

        2. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

          Awesome, you’re going to enjoy it ~ hopefully you’ll never truly need it, but it sure does provide some peace of mind for me, knowing that I can quickly look up pet emergency procedures!

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