Normally, a dog’s body temperature is somewhere between 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, slightly higher than for humans. A dog will start to experience heatstroke at over 105 degrees. At around 106 to 108 degrees, organ damage can occur. Always keep a rectal thermometer handy for your dog and check his temperature if you suspect heatstroke.
If the overheating isn’t stopped, your dog’s breathing will slow or stop, and he can have seizures or fall into a coma. Obviously, we don’t want any of that to happen. So, what should you do if you think your dog has heatstroke?
Whenever the weather gets warms, it’s a good idea to pay special attention to how your dog is doing. And know your dog: Breeds with “flat faces” like Pugs and Boxers, elderly dogs, puppies and sick dogs are at even greater risk of overheating. Things progress quickly when it comes to heatstroke, so as soon as you detect a problem, act quickly.
Since heat is the obvious problem, the goal is to get him out of it and away from direct sunlight.
Get water on his inner thighs and stomach where there are more large blood vessels, and on the pads of his feet. Use running water via faucet or hose and avoid submerging your dog in a tub or pool because this could cool him too fast and cause other problems like cardiac arrest and bloat. Also, avoid cold water or ice because these will cause the blood vessels to constrict, slowing blood flow and the cooling process.
To help cool your dog, you want to make sure the water you’re putting on him can evaporate. To that end, you’ll want to avoid covering him up with a wet towel or blanket because rather than allowing the water to evaporate, this will create a sauna effect – which you don’t want. Keep him out of enclosed areas like a kennel; instead, keep him near flowing air like from a fan or air conditioner.
Encourage your dog to stand or walk slowly while he’s cooling down, so that his cooled blood can circulate throughout his body.
If he gulps down too much water too fast, it can cause vomiting or bloating.
…if he doesn’t want water, but avoid human performance drinks.
Once your dog has started to cool down, you can stop your efforts and take him to his vet right away. You don’t want to continue trying to cool down your dog for too long or you’ll risk him getting hypothermia. Your dog will need a veterinary exam even if he seems fine because there may be underlying damage to his organs that you can’t see. Even if he seems normal, the effects of heatstroke can continue for 48 to 72 hours following the initial heatstroke. According to William Grant DVM, the most common cause of death following heatstroke is disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC) which is blood coagulating throughout the body; it can occur hours or days after the heatstroke episode.