Updated 02 December 2016

How the heat can kill your dog

Sizzling summer? We may be well-versed in preventing sunburn and dehydration, but how much do we know about keeping Fido and Vlossie safe in rising temperatures?


Found the latest heatwave a tad uncomfortable?

Well, if you want to imagine how heat affects your dog, picture yourself in a furry bear costume - but with bare feet - crossing a tar road in the heat of the day.

Add a lack of shade, water and excessive exertion to this ugly picture, and your dog could be heading for heat exhaustion, or even more seriously – heat stroke.

Dogs don't have sweat glands like us (their sweat glands are limited to the pads of their feet) and they rely mostly on panting to cool down.

They are especially vulnerable in an enclosed space, such as a yard without shade or a carport. And once the temperature goes over 30°C and there's not cooling breeze, your animal could suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke within minutes.

Check his temperature (if you have a thermometer):

Normal body temperature for a dog is  37°C - 39.1°C (100-102.5°F)

A dog with moderate heatstroke will have a body temperature from 40°C – 41.1°C (104º to 106ºF) – the animal should recover within an hour if given prompt first aid and veterinary care.

A dog with severe heat stroke will have a body temperature 41.1 °C (106ºF.) It can be deadly - you have to take him to the vet immediately.

The symptoms to look out for are:

  • Excessive and prolonged panting
  • Gums that are brick-red or purple-blue; tongue dark red
  • Sticky or dry tongue and/or gums
  • Excessive drooling, and/or foaming at the mouth
  • Upset stomach – vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Staggering when moving
  • Difficulty in getting up or disorientated
  • Lethargic, collapsed, having seizures  

If you notice these symptoms, take your dog to the vet IMMEDIATELY.

What to do on the spot

Your first action should be to remove the dog from the hot, stuffy environment, and start cooling its body down.

First prize is to place the dog into a cold water bath and make sure the water gets onto the skin.

Place the dog in front of a fan.

Wrap wet cloths around its body, especially at the nape of its neck and the groin area. Continue with this until he starts to breathe normally.

Give him small amounts of cool water to drink.

As you cool him measure his temperature with a rectal thermometer every 30 - 60 seconds. Stop cooling once his temperature reaches 39.7°C (103.5°F).

DO NOT use ice or very cold water - this can be dangerous because ice and cold water cause the blood vessels to constrict, which slows blood flow and thereby slows the cooling process. The dog can also go into shock if cooled too quickly. 

Certain dogs are more at risk of succumbing to heat, so be extra vigilant if your dog is:

  • Short-faced (such as a Bulldog or Boston terrier)
  • Long and/or thick-coated or double-coated (such as Cocker spaniels, Siberian huskies, Pomeranians and Chows)
  • Overweight and unfit
  • Big-muscled
  • Very young or very old
  • Pregnant
  • Has suffered from an episode of heat stroke or exhaustion before

Fortunately, heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be prevented, and many of the precautions recommended by vets and animal behaviourists are simply based on common sense:

  • Always have fresh water available for your dog.
    walking your dog between 8 am and 6 pm. (Unless you are barefoot, it is easy to forget how hot tar can get. Test the temperature of the surface with your bare hand before walking your dog on it. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the temperature of the tar surface could be close to double that of the air in certain conditions. For example, if the air temperature is 30°C, the tar could be 57°C – more than hot enough to bake an egg on).
    your dog to choose a shady spot outdoors, or better yet, to come indoors. (The cool tiles of a bathroom are perfect).
    shave your dog’s coat too short - not less than 1 cm, or you will expose it to sunburn and risk of skin cancer. Keep in mind that his coat is designed in layers to keep him cool.
    leave your dog in a car – even if the windows are open, or it is parked in the shade. (Studies have shown that if the ambient temperature is 21°C, the temperature in the car will rise to 32°C within 10 minutes; and on a hot day – say 29°C outside, the inside of the car will shoot up to 40°C within the same period)

How hot the tar or asphalt can get:

What about cats?

Cats are less prone to heat stroke and exhaustion, possibly since they are more likely to be able to find a cool spot to while away the day in. If you notice the following symptoms however, get ready to take your cat to the vet: 
  • Open-mouth breathing or panting
  • Brick-red or purple-blue gums
  • Lethargic, collapsed, seizures
  • Excessive drooling
  • Slow movement
  • Drinking water excessively

First aid: Wet the cat’s ears and run your wet hands over it. Dip the cat’s feet in water and give him water to drink. If he doesn’t revive quickly, take him to the vet.


Berens, J.J. 1970. Thermal Contact Burns from Streets and Highways. Journal of the American Medical Association 214(11): 2025-2027
PetMd - common emergencies



Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Live healthier

Healthy gut »

IBS – 4 symptoms that extend beyond your stomach

When you think of IBS, symptoms that come to mind include diarrhoea, constipation and gas. However, there are other symptoms that extend beyond your stomach.

Sex health »

Do you feel sad after sex? This is why and what you can do about it

A new study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy has revealed that 41% of the men surveyed had felt sad after sex in the previous four weeks.