With the summer weather upon us, it is important to be aware of the risks it poses to our pets. It doesn’t matter where you live geographically, the risks still apply, some areas may be more at risk than others however.

Let’s take a look at one of the most common ways dogs get heat stroke: being left in a hot car or not provided shade when outside in the sun.

Studies show that leaving a window down for your pet is not enough to keep them from getting too hot. The fact is a car that is sitting in 78 degree weather, even with the window down, will reach 120 degrees in 20 minutes. That means in a matter of five to ten minutes you could loose your dog.


Dogs unfortunately do not possess the ability to dissipate heat in the same ways that humans do. Yes, it is true that they have some sweat glands in their foot pads but they are not sufficient enough to rely on for body cooling. Dogs cool themselves primarily by panting. Unfortunately, compared to sweating, like horses or people do, panting is considered a fairly inefficient way to cool the body.  When the air temp rises to even 95 degrees, a pet loses the ability to cool themselves.  This results in a body temperature rise, which can easily lead to death if not caught soon enough.

Dogs with arthritis or those who have a hard time getting around for other reasons, brachycephalic syndrome breeds (bulldogs, pekinese, bostons, frenchies), those in their senior years, or those not athletically fit, are all at an even higher risk of getting heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  

Dogs that have arthritis, are older, or not athletically fit, may lay in the sun too long, or not easily be able to go to fresh water or shade when they get too hot, which is the reason why they are at a higher risk. 

Brachycephalic is derived from the Greeks, brachy-meaning “short” -cephalic meaning “head” which in turn affects the dog’s upper respiratory functions.  These breeds have excessive tissue in their soft palate, extra large tongues and short, skinny airways which are a recipe for poor air movement and panting.  Many of these dogs have trouble breathing in regular weather/temperatures.  When a dog needs to be able to pant in order to eliminate heat, this syndrome makes this even harder to accomplish, rendering them at a greater risk of suffering from hot temperatures. Many brachycephalic breeds we see here with heat stroke have actually been in a air conditioned room or in a “cool” area. 


Brachycephalic breeds include: Pug, French bulldog, English bulldog, Boxer, Boston terriers, Shih Tzus, French bulldogs, Pekinese, and some cat breeds as well.

So if you have one of these breeds that have short noses or flattened faces, keep this in mind. 

What to watch for:

  • Excessive panting- constant, can’t seem to stop.

  • Lethargy

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Restlessness

  • Red gums

  • Profuse salivation

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Lack of coordination

Precautions to take:

  • Never leave a dog in a car on a hot day, not even in the shade. (Remember even 78 degree weather can be dangerous in the car)

  • When traveling in a vehicle, make sure the dog is in a well ventilated cage or carrier, with the AC on or windows down.

  • When leaving a pet outdoors make sure that there is adequate areas to provide shade at all times, place plenty amounts of fresh drinking water in the shaded areas.  Provide a pool for dipping if possible.

  • Do not exercise your dog in the heat, even some normal walking/playing activities can be risky if the pavement is hot or the pet is not used to the heat.

  • Do not muzzle your dog, they can prevent the ability to pant properly.

  • Avoid concrete and asphalt, even beaches, the heat can be reflected off of the surface.

What if it happens?

First, remove the dog from the heated environment.

DO NOT under ANY circumstances give your dog aspirin! Dogs do not have the same biological processes as we do and aspirin is toxic to them.

You do not want to drop a pets temperature too quickly because that can be counterproductive. Keep this in mind when trying to cool your pet.

Once removed from the heat source use slightly cooler than lukewarm, NEVER cold water, this constricts outer capillaries and actually keeps the heat in.  

After you wet down your pet, immediately head to a veterinarian for further treatment, with the windows down in your vehicle. It is NOT recommended for treatment to be stopped after home cooling.  Heat stroke can cause a number of other issues such as, kidney failure, the inability to clot properly (your pet may bleed from the gums and rectum), brain swelling, etc. which develop hours or days later.  Hospital care is always needed for true heat stroke patients.

It can be handy to have a rectal thermometer on hand strictly for your pet. A rectal temperature for dogs should range between 101 degrees to 102.5 degrees.  Dogs who are over 104 are classified to have heat exhaustion and pets over 106 are classified as having heat stroke.

If you suspect your dog of having heat exhaustion or heat stroke take their temperature. Anything over 104 degrees should be seen by a doctor. Pet’s who are over 106 degrees tend to suffer severe side effects, even if they seem ok once cooled down.  

During these summer months, it is vital to be cautious of this if you have pets.