Recognizing Dehydration and Heat Stroke in Dogs

Summer heat and exposure to higher elevations can cause dehydration for both you and your dog. Know the symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke in dogs so you can monitor your pet and act quickly if they start getting sick.

French bulldog lying in the shade on a path showing symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke

Disclosure: I’m not a vet. If you suspect your dog is suffering from dehydration or heat stroke, call your vet immediately.

One of the joys of traveling is taking a break from your normal routine. But it can also be more difficult to monitor whether your pet is getting enough water or is overexerting itself. Sunny days, rising temperatures, higher elevations that you are used to, high humidity and spending time outdoors can all lead to dehydration and heat stroke in dogs.

Whether you’re driving in the car, frolicking at the dog park, playing on the beach, or hitting the trail, a little prevention is the best cure. So make sure you have plenty of water and give your pup plenty of opportunities to drink.

But even with your best efforts, dogs get agitated and may not want to stop their activities long enough to stay hydrated. In such cases, leash your dog for short breaks and encourage him to drink. And always be on the lookout for signs that he’s not doing well.

Dog drinks from water bowl

What is dehydration in dogs?

Dehydration occurs when a dog doesn’t have enough water in their body. Dogs’ bodies are made up of around 90% water, and normal activities like panting and drooling will deplete their fluid levels. Even a 10% drop in fluid levels can lead to serious dehydration.

Prevent your dog from becoming dehydrated

The best way to prevent canine dehydration and heat stroke is to make sure your dog is drinking plenty of water. Always have enough water for you and your dog – when hiking, he can even take his own in a dog backpack! And remember to take frequent breaks for drinks.

READ MORE ⇒ What is the best dog backpack?

buster hiking

Symptoms of Dehydration in Dogs

Dogs can’t tell you when they’re thirsty, so it’s important to have fresh, cool water available to them at all times. Even so, sometimes they get busy squirrel-fetching, hiking, or tree-walking and forget to stop for a drink. If you notice any of these symptoms, you must act quickly to protect your dog:

  • sunken eyes
  • Too much or too little urination
  • Dry, sticky gums
  • Lack of skin elasticity, meaning if you lift your dog’s skin on his neck and then let go, it should spring back into place. In dehydrated dogs, the skin stays in a bump and the longer it stays that way, the more dehydrated.

What to do if your dog shows signs of dehydration

If you think your dog might be dehydrated, the main goal is to get him more fluids.

  • Move him to a shady, cool spot to try and reduce wheezing.
  • Provide him with cool water, perhaps mix him with salt-free chicken broth or Pedialyte to encourage him to drink.

If your pup is severely dehydrated, this can be a critical emergency. Call your veterinarian or locate the nearest emergency veterinary hospital so that intravenous fluids can be administered.

READ MORE ⇒ What You Should Know About Emergency Vets (Before You Need One)

Honey the Golden Retriever sees her vet Dr.  Armao affectionately.

What is heat stroke in dogs?

Canine heat stroke is an extremely dangerous condition that occurs when a dog is unable to maintain its normal body temperature (about 101°F) by panting.

Heat and humidity increase your dog’s temperature, and at 106°F his internal organs can shut down. At this point, you only have a few minutes to cool him down, or he could suffer permanent organ damage or die.

Factors that increase the risk of heat stroke

Something as unique as your dog’s temperament can raise their body temperature. For example, a pet that is anxious, excited, or frightened, or barks excessively, is more likely to suffer from heat stroke than one that is calm.

Also, dogs with short noses, like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Shar-Pei, are more likely to have heat-related issues because they have less tongue surface to dissipate heat. Other factors that may play a role in heat stroke include:

  • direct sunshine
  • High humidity
  • Missing breeze
  • Health and weight of the pet
  • Thickness of the dog’s fur
  • Availability of fresh water
  • Recent feeding
  • Short-legged dogs are also exposed to more heat radiating up from the ground
Ty and the fan

Here’s how to help your dog beat the heat

As pet owners, it is our responsibility to do our best to protect our pets from the heat. Here are some suggestions on how to help your dog stay cool:

  • Don’t leave your pet alone in the car
  • Minimize outdoor activities on hot and humid days
  • Exercise early in the morning and late in the evening when temperatures are cooler
  • Keep your dog in a cool part of the house, like the basement or an air-conditioned room
  • Make sure your pets always have access to clean drinking water
  • When your dog is outside, make sure he gets shade, gets a breeze, and consider a kiddy pool for him to cool off in

READ MORE ⇒ Is it illegal to leave your pet alone in the car?

dog on ice

Symptoms of heat stroke in dogs

Often people do not recognize the symptoms of heat stroke and lose important treatment time. Watch your dog closely for these signs:

  • Excessive panting
  • Pale gums and a bright red tongue
  • Anxious or rigid expression
  • disorientation and confusion
  • Increased heart rate and pulse
  • Thick saliva
  • Vomit
  • difficulty breathing
  • collapse
  • coma

Simply learning to check your dog’s pulse, breathing and temperature whenever he is unwell can help you assess the level of his pain, injury or illness. And that can help you decide on an appropriate course of action.

READ MORE ⇒ How to check your dog’s pulse, breathing and temperature

Checking the dog's vital signs: Photo copyright: Sunny-dog Ink
Copyright: Sunny Dog Ink

Capturing and recording your dog’s vital signs when he is healthy gives you a baseline to know when something is wrong. The difference between your dog’s normal readings and what he experiences when he’s not well could very well prompt you to seek professional medical help.

treatment for heat stroke

Time is of the essence when your dog suffers heat stroke. Don’t panic and follow these steps:

  • If you are outdoors, put your dog in the shade.
  • If you’re indoors, move it to an area with air conditioning or in front of a fan. The flow of air helps his body cool down.
  • Monitor its temperature with a rectal thermometer and contact the nearest emergency vet.
  • Place him in a lukewarm bath or gently pour or hose him down with cold water. (Ice packs should not be used as you can overcool it.)
  • Give him some water, but don’t let him drink to the point of vomiting.
  • Gently massage him and bend his legs to stimulate circulation.
  • When your dog recovers from heat stroke, schedule a thorough exam with your vet to rule out organ damage.
Buster is ill

It’s disappointing to have your plans thwarted by the weather. But no activity is worth risking your pet’s health! Dehydration and heat stroke in dogs are serious conditions that no pet owner wants to face.

If it’s too warm to play outside safely, find a fan and enjoy a nice nap together.

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