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Here in Australia the red hot summer is upon us (curse you global warming!!) and last week we had several days in a row of temperatures in the 40s (Celsius, that’s above 104 Fahrenheit – holy crap!).  Veterinary clinics have seen a huge influx of animals that are badly affected by the heat.  This includes dogs and cats, pocket pets and wildlife.  Possums and birds have been dropping out of trees and the sad thing is, most can’t be saved once they reach this stage.

What is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke, or hyperthermia, is defined as a severe elevation in body temperature  from 40.5° – 43°C (104.9° to 109.4°F) after an animal has been exposed to elevated ambient temperatures or has performed strenuous activity.1 As body temperature rises, adaptive cooling mechanisms like panting and increased blood flow to the skin cease to be effective.  Blood pressure decreases, and along with it the blood supply to vital organs is reduced.  This can result in widespread organ damage.  Aside from effects on the cardiovascular system, the increased temperature can directly damage cells.

hot dog dachshund

I like a hot dog as much as the next person..

What are the Signs my Dog May be Affected

Signs can include excessive panting, vomiting and diarrhoea (sorry Americans, this is the weird way we spell things here in Australia!), profuse salivation, ataxia (loss of coordination of movements), weakness, listlessness, collapse, shaking, and seizures.  The thing is, heat stroke can be fatal.  We’ve all heard about the tragic cases of dogs (or children!) left in cars on warm days while someone just ducks into a shop.  You’ll see how I feel about this below..

The Best Ways to Avoid Heat Stroke

The two most important things are to ensure that animals have adequate access to shade all day and that there is more than enough cool, clean drinking water available.  A kiddie ‘clam shell’ pool filled with water can be lovely to take a dip in and also ensures there is plenty of water to drink.

heat stroke

Baxter doesn’t much care for water – this was a VERY hot day

If you’re lucky enough to live near the beach or some other dog-friendly body of water, surf’s up! Just remember not to overdo the exercise and be sunsmart – our pets can get sunburn too!

heat stroke

While Buckley and Ani enjoy the salty sea breeze, Billy just likes the feeling of the waves splashing his privates..

Frozen treats, prepared the night before, are awesome for dogs too. For some recipes that I wouldn’t even mind sampling myself check out 1st world dog.

If the ground is hot enough to burn your bare feet, it’s hot enough to burn sensitive little paws.  Forcing a dog to walk on a hot surface is NOT COOL.  And remember folks – NEVER EVER LEAVE YOUR PET IN A PARKED CAR. Even if it’s ‘not that hot’ outside, the car is like an oven, and even if the windows are down it can still easily get hot enough to endanger life.  Rules vary from country to country and to be honest I don’t even know exactly what the law is here, but if I see an animal or child locked in a car on a hot day I WILL smash a window first and ask questions later.  I should definitely get a costume or at least a cape so I can be a legit vigilante…


Or maybe that would just be weird…

And for Those Who Prefer it ‘in a nutshell’ – 7 Things you Need to Know


And in a handy pdf here if you’d like to print with ease (don’t say I never do anything for you!)

Help! My Dog is Showing Signs of Heat Stroke, What do I do?

Right, so you’ve just discovered your dog showing some of the signs mentioned above.  Maybe you were out all day and he knocked over his only water source, or maybe a gate swung closed locking her out of the only shady part of the yard.  Perhaps you took him for a late morning run, not realizing the luscious thick coat he’s wearing and his inability to dissipate heat by sweating could cause problems.  Also be aware that certain breeds (brachycephalics such as pugs and bulldogs) are predisposed.  Other risk factors include being very old or very young, and obesity.

So I really hope you’re reading this in preparation for summer days and not after you noticed your pet is affected by heat stroke.  If you think your dog has heat stroke, you need to get to a vet – ASAP.  Which reminds me, this is something that I can’t stress enough:


I shall illustrate this with a handy quote I found online:

lincoln quote


That Lincoln guy was WAY ahead of the times. And he also said this:

abraham lincoln

Image: http://pandawhale.com/post/8896/lincoln-memes

 Truer words were never spoken.. But as I am wont to do, I digress.

So here is some basic, general advice for dogs exhibiting signs of heat stroke.  With a dash of common sense it can be applied to other pets if necessary too.  First of all, remove the heat source if possible.  If out in the sun, get them inside, in the shade and/or air conditioning.  The next thing we want to do is cool them down. There are a few ways to achieve this.  You can pour cool water over them, spray them (gently) with a garden hose, immerse them in cool water, or drape them with wet towels. Using a fan to help dissipate heat by convection can also be beneficial. With any method of cooling, use cool water, but NOT ice or iced water.  Extreme cold can cause the blood vessels in the skin to react by constricting, and this will cause core body temperature to rise even further.  Check your dog’s temperature (this means a thermometer up the bum – I told you to go to the vet!) every 10 – 15 minutes. If the temperature has dropped below 39.5c/103F, stop cooling them immediately.  Further cooling can occur very quickly, causing hypothermia and shock in an already compromised animal.  Offer a drink of water but please don’t force them to drink.

Aaaand, get to the vet

If your dog is too severely affected to attempt cooling at home, for example if he is collapsed or having seizures, throw a wet towel over him, get him into the car, crank up the air con, and you guessed it, get straight to the vet.  Even if you think you have averted a crisis and your dog appears to be fine? Get straight to the vet.  The thing is, they may look good externally, but life-threatening complications such as blood clotting problems, organ damage or brain swelling may be quietly brewing.

And again with the nutshell

Heat Stroke in Dogs

And here’s the nice printable version

Please Don’t Forget to Leave Water out for Wildlife Too

heat stroke


This is actually me treating a Kookaburra following the Black Saturday Victorian bushfires in 2009

So what tricks do you have to keep your pet cool during the hot weather? I’d love to see some ideas not covered here or some yummy frozen dog treat recipes!



1Ettinger, S (2010). Veterinary Internal Medicine. 7th ed. Missouri: Elsevier. p509.

Joanna Paul

Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc

Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.

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Showing 12 comments
  • tricia

    I believe my dog got too hot the other day. The next day he began to throw up he was drinking lots of water but he threw up ask day & night. Hedidn’t up today till iI took him out side then it wasn’t long and he was throwing up again. Can’t afford to take him to the vet. Help pl

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Tricia,
      I’m sorry to hear about your dog. I believe he really needs to see a vet. Perhaps you can find one that will do a payment plan to help make it easier for you. There are many things that could cause his signs and no one will be able to give you advice without seeing him. Good luck xx

  • weliveinaflat

    I would like to have a visible sign/indicator so I can do something before the dog already has heatstroke and displays the signs and symptoms of heatstroke. Is there any reliable sign or indicator?? I have no idea at all, but I just try to prevent Donna from having a long hanging tongue because that means she’s trying to lose heat … but I’m not sure how good it is as an indicator of how near to heat stroke a dog is. Lots of people seem to be very happy that their dogs have long hanging tongues because the dog is well exercise… Donna seldom gets a long hanging tongue because I actively prevent that since I have no other indicator of nearness to getting heatstroke… is that too excessive?? Sorry for my ignorance in this area 😛 and asking silly questions,

    • Joanna Paul

      this is not a silly question at all, it’s a great question! Unfortunately it’s not always easy to tell early on, which is why it’s really important to assess the situation, how hot the day is, the individual dog etc (for example a pug would have much more difficulty coping than your Donna). Sadly dogs don’t always know what’s best for them and may try to continue exercising or playing until they basically collapse. Early signs you may see indicating trouble is on it’s way include panting and a fast heart rate. If there is any vomiting or diarrhoea it’s definitely time to take action. I don’t think you are being excessive, it’s very sensible to keep her from overheating.
      I hope that helps 🙂

      • weliveinaflat

        Good to know. I actually would just assume diarrhea is a sign of a GI problem rather than possible sign of heatstroke, without your reply. 😉

  • Ruckus the Eskie

    I love that with ABE. Haters gonna Hate!

    Found you on BlogPaws! Wanted to come by and introduce myself! I’m Ruckus the American Eskimo. Come say hi!

    • Joanna Paul

      Thanks for stopping by! I’ve seen you around Blogpaws, and will drop over and check out your blog now 🙂

  • Karen

    We have bunnies, and for hot days we like to fill empty soft drink bottles with water and freeze them. On a moderately hot day, we place the frozen bottles in their hutch or their outdoor enclosure and they lie against the bottles to stay cool. In extreme heat, however, we bring them indoors. They like the cool tiles of the laundry floor, and we put a wet towel on the floor for them to lie on, give them frozen bottles to snuggle up to, ice in their water bowl and point a fan at them. Dampening their ears also helps 🙂

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Karen!
      Thank you so much for your comment. I should’ve talked about bunnies! As you would know they are so fragile when it comes to heat, and I’d strongly recommend people bring them indoors when it’s very hot. Love your suggestions & will do a post just about rabbits soon 🙂

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