What is heatstroke?

ImageDogs and cats overheat more easily than humans. The basic temperature regulation in a human, sweating, occurs through the skin. An animal’s sweating is mainly confined to their feet and plays a very minor role in cooling.

With increasing heat a dog regulates body temperature primarily through respiration and panting. When the respiratory tract cannot get rid of heat quickly enough or air temperature is close to body temperature, the lungs cannot keep up with the heat buildup. Cooling by rapid breathing becomes inadequate, causing body temperature to rise.

Heatstroke occurs when a pet’s internal body temperature rises to levels high enough to lead to death. Normal body temperature is about 102 degrees, and a change of just a few degrees can be fatal. As body temperature rises to 105 degrees a number of physiological changes can occur that make it even more difficult for the animal to control its temperature, and a temperature of 106 degrees or greater rapidly leads to life threatening damage to a number of organ systems including the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract, heart, and brain.

Warning signs & systems:


  • Excessive panting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive drooling
  • Reddened gums
  • Warm, dry skin
  • Increase body temperature
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Collapse


Heatstroke is a medical emergency.


If your pet exhibits signs of heatstroke you must act quickly. Ask someone to call veterinarian immediately. Meanwhile, lower the animal’s body temperature by applying towels soaked in cool water to the hairless areas of the body, immerse the animal in a tub of room temperature water, or run water from a hose on the floor around the animal.


Often an animal will respond after only a few minutes of cooling, only to falter again with his body temperature soaring back up or falling well below normal. For this reason it is imperative to get the animal to a veterinarian immediately. Event with emergency veterinary treatment, heatstroke can be fatal.


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