Heatstroke in dogs

Heatstroke is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. Here’s how to protect your dog all summer long.

Summer in Australia is hot – really hot. While this means there are plenty of opportunities to get into the great outdoors with your pet, it also means that dogs around the country are exposed to a serious health risk: heatstroke.

This serious condition can be potentially deadly to our canine companions, so it’s essential for all dog owners to know how to prevent and treat heatstroke in dogs. Read on to find out how to keep your pet cool and safe this summer.

Here's what you need to know:

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What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog’s body temperature rises above the normal range, causing tissue injury, and the body is unable to effectively remove that heat. Heatstroke is sometimes also referred to as heat stress, heat exhaustion or hyperthermia.

Dogs and cats are nowhere near as efficient as humans at cooling themselves down. They can’t sweat to lower their temperature, except through their paw pads, so they rely on evaporative cooling to beat the heat. Cats moisten their coat by licking it while dogs expel excess heat by panting. Without access to enough cool air, the risk of overheating becomes a real problem.

What causes heatstroke?

How do pets get heatstroke? Well, there are several key factors that can lead to it occurring:

  • Being exposed to a hot, humid environment without access to adequate ventilation. The classic example of this is when a dog is left in a hot car
  • Inadequate shade
  • Insufficient drinking water
  • Excessive exercise, particularly during the hottest parts of the day

Certain breeds of dog are also predisposed to suffer from heatstroke. Brachycephalic (or short-nosed) breeds have smaller nasal passages and can struggle to circulate sufficient air to cool themselves down, so English and French bulldogs, pugs, Pekingese and other breeds face an increased risk. As for our feline friends, Persian and Himalayan cats are the most likely to be affected.

Other factors that can increase the risk of your dog suffering from heatstroke include:

  • Obesity
  • Any pre-existing respiratory disease or breathing problems
  • Heart problems
  • Young or old age
  • A thick or long coat
  • Dehydration

Signs of heatstroke in dogs and cats

It’s essential to be aware of the signs and symptoms heatstroke causes, including:

  • Increased body temperature (above 40 degrees)
  • Vigorous panting
  • Drooling and salivating
  • Distress
  • Bluish-purple or bright red gums (caused by inadequate oxygen supply)
  • A bright red tongue
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscle tremors
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Dizziness or disorientation, mental confusion
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Collapsing, lying down, struggling to get up
  • Loss of consciousness

If you notice any of the above signs, take action immediately. Know what you need to do to start cooling your pet at home before seeking emergency veterinary attention.

Why is heatstroke so serious?

It’s just a little bit of overheating and isn’t anything to worry about, right? Wrong. Heatstroke is an extremely serious and potentially life-threatening condition.

If it’s not treated quickly, it can damage a number of vital internal organs, including the heart, kidneys and brain. Seizures, collapse, coma, cardiac arrest and even death can soon follow, so you can see why heatstroke needs to be taken seriously and why you must take immediate steps to help your pet.

Think your dog has heatstroke? Follow these 5 steps

If you think your pup has heatstroke, urgent treatment is required. So if your dog exhibits any of the above symptoms or has a temperature above 40 degrees, you’ll need to administer emergency first aid straight away.

What can you do? Follow these 5 steps:

  1. Remove them from the heat. The first thing is to remove your pet from the hot environment immediately – if they’re locked in a hot car, get them out and into a cool environment; if they’re in the sun, move them into the shade.
  2. Cool your pet down. Next, put your dog in a cool bath or spray them with cool water. Please note that you should not use icy cold water or ice in this scenario as it may construct their blood vessels and slow the cooling process.
  3. Maintain airflow. Maintaining a steady flow of air over your pet’s body is crucial to help them cool down. Use a fan or air-conditioner to keep the air circulating, and remember to keep this going as you transport your dog to the vet.
  4. Give them a drink. If your dog is able to drink, give them a chance to do so by providing a large bowl of water.
  5. Seek veterinary help. Heatstroke is an emergency and extremely serious, so always see your vet as soon as possible. Wet towels are also extremely handy to help cool your pet while you’re on the way to the vet.

What does treatment involve?

The emergency medical treatment your vet provides varies on a case-by-case basis. After checking your pet’s temperature and assessing their vital signs, your vet will decide on the best course of treatment. This may include:

  • Putting your pet on a drip (intravenous fluids) to cool the body
  • Other cooling treatments such as cooling enemas
  • Providing supplemental oxygen
  • Providing medication as required
  • Maintaining blood pressure
  • Conducting blood tests to check organ function
  • Ongoing monitoring of your pet’s condition

If the condition is caught and treated early enough, your pet can make a full recovery.

How to prevent heatstroke

As is always the case, the prevention of heatstroke is preferable to the cure. Keep the following simple tips in mind to help protect your pet from this serious health problem:

  • Never leave your pet in a car. This is one warning most pet owners have heard before but it’s still worth repeating. Even if the windows are open and even if it’s not extremely hot outside, the interior of a car can heat up very quickly – it only takes minutes for temperatures to reach dangerous levels for your pet.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise on hot days. If it’s the hottest day of the year, you and your pet can be forgiven for giving your usual lunchtime run a miss.
  • Don’t exercise in the hottest part of the day. Exercise your pet in the early morning or late afternoon/early evening to avoid the hottest part of the day and reduce the risk of overheating. Also remember to take plenty of water with you (for yourself and your pooch) when exercising.
  • Provide shade. If your furry friend is an outside pet, make sure he always has access to somewhere he can escape the heat. Adequate shade and good ventilation are essential or, better yet, invite Rover inside to ride out the hot weather with you.
  • Provide water. An ample supply of fresh, clean water is essential all year round. However, your pet will need more fluids than usual in the heat of summer, so make sure they always have access to multiple water bowls. Keep those bowls in the shade if possible or use frozen water bottles to keep them cold.
  • Protect at-risk breeds. If you own a breed of dog or cat that’s predisposed to heatstroke, take extra-special care not to expose your pet to the heat.

Will pet insurance cover heatstroke?

It can!

Heatstroke is a very serious condition for dogs, and the cost of treatment can be substantial. The good news is that many pet insurance policies will cover a large portion of the cost of that treatment, usually up to 80% of your vet’s bills.

Heatstroke is generally covered by comprehensive or combined accident and illness pet insurance policies, but in some cases is covered by injury-only policies as well. It’s also important to be aware that many insurers impose a waiting period of 30 days on heatstroke and a range of other conditions, so you’ll need to serve that waiting period before your policy will cover heatstroke treatment.

As cover can differ widely from one policy to the next, it’s essential that you read the PDS closely for full details of what’s included in your policy. If you’re unsure about anything, contact your insurer directly for more details.

Pet insurance can reimburse you if you have to fork out for vet bills

Details Features
Comprehensive Plan
Comprehensive Plan
Get a free engraved pet ID tag when you sign up.
  • Maximum yearly benefit: $8,000 or $12,000
  • Reimbursement rate: 80%
  • Eligibility: Between 8 weeks and 9 years old
  • Excess options: $0, $100 or $200
  • Paralysis tick benefit: $1,000
  • Discounts: 10% multi-pet discount
Go to site More info
Major Medical Cover
Major Medical Cover
Get 2 months free when you sign up.
  • Maximum yearly benefit: $15,145
  • Reimbursement rate: 80%
  • Eligibility: Between 8 weeks and 9 years old
  • Excess options: $0, $100 or $200
  • Paralysis tick benefit: $1,200
  • Discounts: 15% multi-pet discount
Go to site More info
Ultimate Cover (Accident & Illness)
Ultimate Cover (Accident & Illness)
Helps support the RSPCA.
  • Maximum yearly benefit: $11,000
  • Reimbursement rate: 80%
  • Eligibility: Between 8 weeks and 9 years old
  • Excess options: $0
  • Paralysis tick benefit: $1,200
  • Discounts: 10% multi-pet discount
Go to site More info
Premium Accident & Illness Cover
Premium Accident & Illness Cover
Pay fortnightly, monthly or yearly at no extra cost.
  • Maximum yearly benefit: $12,000
  • Reimbursement rate: 80%
  • Eligibility: Between 8 weeks and 9 years old
  • Excess options: $0
  • Paralysis tick benefit: $1,200
  • Discounts: 10% refund after your 1st year
Go to site More info
 Premium Care
Premium Care
Helps support Guide Dogs Australia.
  • Maximum yearly benefit: $20,000
  • Reimbursement rate: 85%
  • Eligibility: Between 8 weeks and 9 years old
  • Excess options: $0 or $50
  • Paralysis tick benefit: $2,000
  • Discounts: 10% multi-pet discount
Go to site More info
Sovereign Accident & Illness Cover
Sovereign Accident & Illness Cover
With guaranteed renewal you can protect your pet for life.
  • Maximum yearly benefit: $14,000
  • Reimbursement rate: 85%
  • Eligibility: Between 8 weeks and 9 years old
  • Excess options: $0
  • Paralysis tick benefit: $1,200
  • Discounts: 10% multi-pet discount
Go to site More info
Platinum Accident and Illness
Platinum Accident and Illness
No joining fee to pay.
  • Maximum yearly benefit: $12,000
  • Reimbursement rate: 80%
  • Eligibility: Between 8 weeks and 9 years old
  • Excess options: $0
  • Paralysis tick benefit: $1,000
  • Discounts: No
Go to site More info
Top Accident & Illness Cover
Top Accident & Illness Cover
If you're over 50 get 10% off.
  • Maximum yearly benefit: $12,000
  • Reimbursement rate: 80%
  • Eligibility: Between 8 weeks and 9 years old
  • Excess options: $0
  • Paralysis tick benefit: $1,200
  • Discounts: 10% off for seniors
Go to site More info
Accident and Illness Cover
Accident and Illness Cover
Your pet is covered for life.
  • Maximum yearly benefit: $12,000
  • Reimbursement rate: 75% or 85%
  • Eligibility: Between 8 weeks and 9 years old
  • Excess options: $0
  • Paralysis tick benefit: $500
  • Discounts: 10% off for pensioners and rescue dogs
Go to site More info

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