What to Do if a Dog Has Heat Exhaustion

Dogs and cats are not well adapted to living in hot situations. Compared to other animals, they have an inefficient means of controlling their body temperature. Unlike horses and humans they do not have sweat glands over the entire body, so they do not have the advantage of the cooling that occurs when sweat evaporates on the skin surface.


Dogs and cats have to rely on the evaporative cooling effect of air passing over their moistened tongue. In order to expose as much of the blood to this effect, the tongue greatly expands, becomes engorged with blood, and is moistened by the profuse secretion of saliva.

In order to draw as much air as possible over the tongue the animal pants, the hotter the day the more rapid the respiration. To aid the evaporative effect the dog continually takes small drinks of water.

If these measures fail to keep the animal’s body temperature down, heatstroke occurs. Respiration becomes very rapid and shallow, the heart rate increases and the dog collapses. The tongue loses its pink color and becomes bluish, as the respiration and heart are so inefficient that the blood is not fully oxygenated.


Death can occur quickly unless the animal’s body temperature is reduced quickly. The best way to do this is to wet the animal completely.

Place it in a draft and continue to sponge the body until the breathing and color of the tongue return to normal. Keeping the tissues of the mouth moist with cold water also is beneficial.

Dogs are likely to develop heatstroke if they are forced to exercise or work in extreme heat. Dogs and cats confined in an unshaded place or locked in a car are affected quickly.

Aged or overweight animals or those suffering from heart disease suffer heat stress more readily, as their circulation is unable to cope with the extra demands placed upon the heart to circulate blood rapidly through the expanded tongue.

Coat color rather than the thickness of hair has a bearing on the animal’s ability to withstand heat. A dark-colored animal will absorb more heat than a lighter-colored animal performing the same amount of exercise or exposed to the sun for the same time.


In hot weather exercise your dog in the very early morning or late evening. Make sure it has unlimited supplies of clean water in a vessel that cannot be tipped over.

Allow your dog to swim or wet itself under the sprinkler after exercise. Be careful when taking the dog or cat by a car that it does not become too excited. If it is a nervous traveler, ask your veterinarian for some tranquilizers.

Never leave an animal confined in a closed car. Even if parked in the shade it is impossible to ensure adequate ventilation.

Remember also that the position of the sun changes and that the effect of the sun shining through only one window can convert the interior of the car into a furnace. When traveling take some cold water and a bowl and allow the animal to have frequent small drinks.

Dogs and cats require less food in the summer months. Make sure that you do not leave food lying around, as it quickly undergoes putrefaction, which can cause violent gastric upsets.

During the summer months, dogs and cats shed their fur profusely. Regular brushing helps to remove this dead hair and makes the dog more comfortable. Steps should be taken to prevent flea infestation, so as to minimize the likelihood of skin complaints during the hot weather.

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