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A guide to heatstroke in dogs

As temperatures rise in the summer, dogs can become very ill with heatstroke. Read on for the warning signs of heatstroke in dogs and what to do if you think your pet is suffering.

As temperatures rise in the summer, dogs can become very ill with heatstroke. Read on for the warning signs of heatstroke in dogs and what to do if you think your pet is suffering.

Written by
Mubina Pirmohamed
Insurance comparison expert
Last Updated
22 FEBRUARY 2022
4 min read
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What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke happens when a dog’s temperature exceeds its normal level and can’t be reduced fast enough by panting – a dog’s natural cooling method.

Dogs of all ages, breeds and sizes can become ill with heatstroke – even perfectly healthy ones – although it tends to be more serious for young or old dogs. It’s also more common in those with thick coats or short, flat faces like Pugs.

Heatstroke can be very serious. If your dog’s temperature rises above a certain level it can cause irreparable damage to their organs. It could even kill them.

What are the warning signs of heatstroke in dogs?

Heatstroke can come on very quickly, with some dogs becoming seriously ill in a matter of minutes. But there are a few clear signs to watch out for, including:

  • Increased panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Darker urine than normal or not urinating at all
  • Anxious behaviour
  • Appearing drowsy or uncoordinated
  • Vomiting
  • Dark red or purple gums
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate.

Your dog might not display all of these signs though, so it’s important to consult your vet if you have any concerns.

What to do if you think your dog has heatstroke

It doesn’t take long for heatstroke to become serious, so if you suspect your dog has it, it’s important to act quickly.

First try to bring down their temperature by moving them to a cool, shaded area and spraying or bathing them in cool (not cold) water. Encourage them to drink water and use damp towels and a fan to help cool them down.  

Once you think they’ve cooled down, it’s important to have them checked out by a vet, who can monitor their temperature and see if they’ve developed complications.  

In more serious cases, your dog might need to stay with the vet overnight for observation. This is why it’s important to make sure you have dog insurance that includes cover for illnesses.  

How to prevent heatstroke

You can’t do anything about hot weather, but there are steps you can take to help your pet avoid heatstroke:

  • Keep them inside in the middle of the day when the sun is hottest – take them for walks early in the morning or in the evening when it’s cooler
  • Take water with you on walks
  • Never leave your dog in a parked car
  • Keep long, thick fur trimmed in the summer months
  • Make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water to drink
  • Move them to a cooler part of the house. If they live outdoors, make sure they have access to a shady area
  • Help your dog maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t muzzle your dog – this prevents them panting and cooling themselves down.

How long do dogs take to recover from heatstroke?

Your dog’s recovery time will depend on how severe their heatstroke is. It could be one or two days, or if they’ve suffered complications it could be as long as several months. Your vet will be able to advise you on aftercare for your pet.

How pet insurance can help

It’s upsetting when your pet becomes ill. But with the right insurance in place, you’re less likely to worry about the cost of treating them. Compare pet insurance quotes to find the right policy for you – and your pet.

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Frequently asked questions

Does pet insurance cover heatstroke?

Pet insurance covers emergencies and unexpected illnesses, so it should cover your pet for heatstroke. However, you’ll need to read the small print to find out exactly what your policy covers. If in doubt, call your insurance provider to check. 

Which dog breeds are most at risk of heatstroke?

Certain breeds are at higher risk of heatstroke than others. Brachycephalic dogs (those with flattened faces) like Pugs, Pekingese, French Bulldogs, and English Bulldogs tend to be most at risk, as are big dogs with thick fur, like Chow Chows. If your pet fits into one of these categories, be careful not to over-exercise them on hot, sunny days.

Do dogs die of heatstroke?

Research shows that one in seven dogs treated by vets for heatstroke die. So while heatstroke can be extremely serious, if you respond quickly, there’s a strong chance your dog will come through it.

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