Heat health alert - I’m a vet and these are 6 things dog owners need to know about heatstroke

Tom Stone
Authored by Tom Stone
Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2024 - 08:00

Brits have been told to brace themselves for a summer heatwave, as the Met Office and UK Health Security Agency have issued a heat health alert from Monday 24th June to 5pm on Thursday 27th June.

With the UK set to experience a rise in temperatures, the UK's leading emergency vets has issued a stark warning to pet owners to keep pets safe during hot days.

Leading vet and Head of Telehealth at Vets Now, Dave Leicester, has shared the top watch outs for heatstroke in dogs, as a reminder for pet owners to be extra vigilant to avoid a trip to the emergency room. 

"Every year we see hundreds of cases of heat stroke in dogs and tragically, many of these prove to be fatal. Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition that is brough on by a sudden rise in body temperature. It commonly effects pets who are exercised outside on a hot day or are carelessly left in a car or conservatory during warm weather.

"Dogs are prone to heat stroke given they are most likely to be taken out of the house on walks and on car journeys, but owners of cats, rabbits and guinea pigs also need to be aware of the signs and take precautionary measures to ensure pets are kept cool during warmer weather." 


  1. What is heat stroke? 

Heat stroke is a form of nonpyrogenic hyperthermia, which means a high body temperature not caused by a fever. It occurs when dogs are no longer able to self-regulate and keep their temperature at a comfortable level." 

"Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that's brought on by a sudden rise in body temperature. It commonly affects pets who are exercised outside on a hot day or are carelessly left in a car, conservatory, or other enclosed environment during warm weather." 

Urgent treatment may be needed if your dog has heat stroke, so Dave advises owners contact their vet as soon as possible for advice.  


  1. What causes heat stroke in dogs? 

There are two types of heat stroke – exertional and non-exertional. 

"Exertional heat stroke occurs during exercise and is much more common on hot sunny days when dogs haven't had a chance to acclimatise to the sudden rise in heat. Dogs can take up to 60 days to acclimatise to significant changes in temperature, which isn't ideal in the UK as the weather tends to change from week to week." 

"Any exercise, not just energetic play is a risk – over two thirds of dogs studied suffered heat stroke after just walking, with less than a third after energetic play." 

"Non-exertional heat stroke is when a dog is exposed to a notable rise in temperature but doesn't have access to ventilation, or drinking water, to keep themselves cool. This typically occurs in a parked car, a garden with no shade, or a very hot room." 

"Dogs below 10kg bodyweight have the lowest risk from exertional heat stroke, and dogs with double coats like chow chows are likely to be among the highest risk." 


  1. Why does hot weather cause dogs to pant more? 

"Dogs don't tolerate high temperatures as well as humans. Because they only have sweat glands in their feet and around their nose, they are less efficient at cooling themselves down." 

"As a result, dogs typically rely on panting to keep themselves cool. Panting is one of the most important ways a dog thermoregulates." 


  1. How hot is too hot to walk your dog in a heatwave? 

"If you can't hold the back of your hand against the floor comfortably for at least 7 seconds, the floor is too hot for your pet to walk on." 

"To an extent, this depends on the breed – bulldogs have been documented to suffer hyperthermia from just standing still at 21°C. Generally speaking though, anything over 19°C is too hot to exercise any dog safely. Overweight dogs, larger breeds and dogs with flat faces should be exercised below 15°C. 

"It isn't just a problem for overweight dogs, as greyhounds have been shown to have over eight times the risk of developing exertional heatstroke than crossbreeds. 

Artificial grass and dark pavements get much hotter than natural grass and woodland paths so it's wise to think about this when choosing where to walk your dog during warmer weather." 


  1. Spotting the signs of heat stroke  

Detecting heat stroke early and treating it promptly is essential to your dog recovering successfully.  

The key signs of heat stroke in dogs to watch out for:   

  • Faster, heavier panting 

  • Barking, whining or signs of agitation 

  • Excessive thirst 

  • Excessive drooling

  • Increased pulse and heartbeat 

  • Dark-coloured (red or purple) gums or tongue 

  • Glassy eyes 

  • Elevated body temperature of 40ºC (104ºF) and up 

  • Staggering, weakness or collapse 

  • Seizures 

  • Unconsciousness 

"As it's difficult to detect heat exhaustion in the early stages, it's a good idea to learn how to take your dog's temperature. You can do this using a digital ear thermometer, although be mindful these can be less accurate if not used properly." 


  1. How to keep your pet cool on hot days 

Heat stroke kills fast, and it is particularly devastating as it can be easily avoided, by keeping pets cool and safe on hot days. 

"It can take as little as 15 minutes for a dog in a parked car to suffer from heatstroke, even on a cloudy day, so it's very important for pet owners to go on temperature rather than general conditions." 

"Dogs don't just die in hot cars, with recent evidence suggesting that exertional heat related illness (HRI) may now be the more significant risk to dogs in the UK." 

Dave's top tips to keep dogs cool - 

  • Restrict exercise on hot days. The best time to exercise your pet in the summer is between 8pm and 8am, so an early walk or later in the evening. 

  • Never leave dogs in hot rooms or sun traps like conservatories. 

  • Avoid long car journeys and use air conditioning. 

  • Make sure they have access to a cool shaded place and cool drinking water. 

  • Always take water on a walk. 

  • Gently mist/spray your dog with cool water. 

  • Ensure pets are in the shade when spending time outside. 

  • Place them in front of a fan. 

  • Never leave your dog in a parked car. 

  • If they have long hair, keep your dog well-trimmed in the summer. 


If you are concerned your pet has heat stroke, contact your nearest vet immediately. 

For out of hours or emergency treatment, find your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or Vets Now 24/7 hospital by visiting the Vets Now website - https://www.vets-now.com/find-an-emergency-vet/. 

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