Heat Stroke and Overheating in Dogs: Treatment & Prevention.

Nate Baxter, DVM

Guideline and overview for dogs that overheat.
PDF file to download and keep in car : avoiding_heat_related_injuries_in_dogs.pdf.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that dogs and people are different enough that most of the info cannot cross lines. I do not profess to know what the appropriate procedures for people other than what I learned in first aid.

Electrolyte replacement: Dogs do not lose enough electrolytes thru exercise to make a difference, but if the dog gets truly into heat stroke the physiology changes will make them necessary. BUT oral replacement at that point is futile, they need IV and lots of it.

Cooling: The point of evaporative cooling being the most efficient is correct. However, in a muggy environment, that will not help as much, so I do cool with the coldest water I can find and will use ice depending on the situation. The best way is to run water over the dog, so there is always fresh water in contact. When you immerse a dog in a tub, the water trapped in the hair coat will get warm next to the dog, and act as an insulator against the cool water and cooling stops. If you can run water over the dog and place it in front of a fan that is the best. Misting the dog with water will only help if you are in a dry environment or in front of a fan.

Just getting the dog wet in not the point, you want the water to be cool itself, or to evaporate.

For MOST situation all you will need to do is get the dog in a cooler environment, ie shade, or in the cab of the truck with the air conditioning on (driving around so the truck does not overheat and the AC is more efficient).

When I had one dog I just pulled the wire crate out of the car and put it in some shade and hopefully a breeze. But having 2 dogs and running from one stake to another, that was not feasible. So I built a platform to put the wire crates on, this raises the dog up in the truck box where air flow better. Then I placed a 3 speed box fan in front blowing on the dogs with a foot of space to allow better airflow.

I purchased a power inverter that connects to the battery and allows the 3 speed fan to run from the truck power. It has an automatic feature that prevents it from draining the battery. When I turned that fan on medium I would find that the dogs where asleep, breathing slowly and appeared very relaxed and comfortable in a matter of 20 minutes or less, even on very hot muggy days.

Alcohol: {Rubbing Alcohol] I did not carry it but probably will next year. It is very effective at cooling due to the rapid evaporation. It should be used when other methods are not working, but do not hesitate to use it. Due to the thicker skin and rapid evaporation I do not worry about it being absorbed. Plus we recommend using rubbing alcohol, which is propylene alcohol, not ethyl, for those of you not aware. So do not try to drink it.

I purchased those cooling pads, but found that the dogs would not lay on them. I would hold them on the back of a dog that just worked to get a quick cool, but probably will not mess with them next summer. I also bought a pair of battery operated fans but found them pretty useless. Spend your money on the power inverter and get a real fan.

Watching temp: If you feel your dog is in danger of heat injury, check its temp and write it down. Keep checking the temp every 3 minutes. Don’t forget to shake it down completely each time, sounds silly, but when are worried about your companion, things tend to get mixed up.


Once the temp STARTS to drop, STOP ALL COOLING EFFORTS. The cooling process will continue even though you have stopped. If the temp starts at 106.5, and then next time it drops to 105.8, stop cooling the dog, dry it off, and continue monitoring. You will be amazed how it continues to go down. If you do not stop until the temp is 102, the temp will drop on down to 99 or even lower. I cannot emphasis that point enough.

Limit water: When the dog is so heated that it is panting severely, only let it have a few laps of water. Water in the stomach does not cool the dog, you just need to keep the mouth wet so the panting is more effective. Do not worry about hydration until the temp has started down. A dog panting heavily taking in large amounts of water is a risk of bloat. Due to the heavy panting they will swallow air mix in a large amount of water they can bloat. Once the temp is going down and panting has slowed to more normal panting then allow water. The dog will rehydrate it self after temp is normal.

If the dog has a serious problem and even though you have gotten the temp normal, get the dog to a vet, as it can still need IV fluids and some medication. Also, a case of heat stroke can induce a case of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (not parvo), with a ton of very bloody diarrhea and a lot of fluid and electrolyte loss. These cases need aggressive treatment.

Prevention: The best method of treatment is prevention. Learn to watch your dog, and see the changes in the size of the tongue, and how quickly it goes down. Learn your dogs response to the different environments, and be careful when you head south for an early season hunt test or trial. I have been to Nashville at the end of May the last 2 years, only 5 hours away, but the difference in temp and humidity did effect the dogs as they were used to more spring weather in Ohio. Try different things in training to help the dog cool and learn what works better.

Another very important point:

Do not swim your hot dog to cool it then put in put in a box/tight crate. Remember, evaporation can not take place in a tight space, and the box will turn into a sauna. Carry a stake out chain, and let the dog cool and dry before putting it up.


Permission is granted to re-post this article as long as the originals are not edited and credit is given.<