Heat Stroke in Dogs: Causes, Signs, & Treatment

Four minutes
May 01, 2023

Dogs can be loving outdoor companions. They often love hiking, running, and picnicking with us throughout the spring and summer — but the heat could get dangerous for our furry friends. It’s important for pet parents to know the signs of heatstroke, the precautions to take during the warmer months, and how pet insurance could help you in an emergency.

What Does Heat Stroke Look Like in Dogs?

First, you should know that dogs don’t manage heat the same way humans do by sweating. According to the American Kennel Club, dogs keep themselves cool by panting and expanding their blood vessels (a process called vasodilation) in their ears and faces.¹ When a dog pants, moisture evaporates from the tongue, nose, and lungs to cool the air they breathe. Dogs sweat from their paws, but that doesn’t help much in cooling off the rest of their bodies.

As a result, dogs can be susceptible to heatstroke. A heat stroke happens when a dog’s internal body temperature skyrockets above 105°F.¹ It becomes difficult for dogs to dissipate heat once these temperatures are reached, which in extreme cases, can lead to health complications. If you notice your dog panting heavily, be sure to offer them some cool water to drink or ice cubes to nibble on.

Additional Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs

Heat stroke in dogs can be a serious medical emergency. Early intervention is key in protecting your dog from the worse effects of heat stroke.

The earliest symptoms of heat stroke in dogs are:¹

  • Excessive drooling
  • Bright red gums
  • Heavy panting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dry nose, eyes, and mouth
  • Elevated heart rate.

Some dogs may become hyperactive or have issues maintaining their balance. Excessive heat can send your dog into shock. Signs of shock from heat stroke include:¹

  • Pale white or blue gums
  • Hyperventilation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irregular pulse
  • Muscle spasms
  • Lethargy
  • Urination or defecation
  • Fainting

These symptoms are very scary and require immediate medical attention at an emergency veterinarian, which can be costly.

How To Treat Heat Stroke In Dogs

If your dog is showing any of the symptoms of heat stroke, it’s best to act quickly and try to cool them down.

  1. Get your dog to a well ventilated, cool area — preferably with air conditioning.
  2. Spray them or sponge your dog with cool, tepid water on their underside. Don’t put them in a cold bath, as it’s best for the dog’s internal temperature to gradually cool rather than be shocked from instant cold.
  3. Monitor your dog and take their temperature if you have a rectal thermometer. If you don’t, feel their skin to see if it's hot to the touch.

Retake their temperature every few minutes until it's at 103°F, if you can. Don’t allow your dog’s body temperature to reach below 103°F because this can lead to further complications.¹

How do vets treat heat stroke in dogs?

It’s advised to call your vet once you’ve finished giving your dog first aid and tell them what’s going on. Severe symptoms may require hospitalization, while milder cases may only require follow-up care. Dogs with severe cases of heat stroke may need to be monitored overnight while they’re given intravenous fluids, oxygen, and other medications to stabilize their vitals.

Mild cases of heat stroke shouldn’t be taken lightly. Dogs who experience heat stroke are likely to experience it again, so it's important to work with your vet to ensure your pet’s individual needs are met.¹ As a pet parent, it’s recommended to monitor your dog and take steps to prevent heat stroke during the hottest days of the year.

Tips To Prevent Heat Stroke in Dogs

There isn’t much pet parents can do about the temperature outside, but preventing heat stroke is very straightforward. First, talk with your vet about your pet’s medical history. The American Veterinary Medical Association advises dog parents to prepare safety plans during vacation travel and day trips, like locating or creating spots where your dog can cool off and drink water.²

Let’s walk through some methods that could prevent your dog from heat stroke in your day-to-day life.  

Avoid heat exposure

Consider rearranging your dog walking routine so you aren’t out during the hottest parts of the day. This may mean early morning and evening walks to avoid hot sidewalks and sweltering temperatures. If you’re out during the day, be sure to provide your pup with plenty of shade to lay down in and fresh water. Pack a bottle of water and a bowl just for them to drink from, especially if you don’t have access to a fountain.

Your dog’s risk of having a heat stroke depends on how high the temperature and humidity is outside plus your pet’s body size. Similar to humans, smaller dogs are more likely to have a heat stroke than a larger dog. Temperatures below 70°F typically don’t pose a risk to most dogs, but temperatures in the mid-80s and above can be life-threatening.3 In higher temperatures, it’s best to avoid long walks and trips to the dog park altogether.

Keep dogs cool and comfortable

Avoid leaving your dogs in hot places unsupervised.¹,² Places like cars and garages aren’t properly ventilated so temperatures can easily exceed 100°F. Consider setting up “cool temperature zones” in your home while you’re at work.² These areas could have a fan, cooling pad, or a pet fountain where your dog can chill.

Pet parents could consider investing in frozen dog toys and treats. Since dogs use their mouths to regulate heat, these sorts of treats can be a good way to keep your pet comfortable.

Watch certain dog breeds and their health conditions closely

Some dogs can be more susceptible to heat stroke than others. Brachycephalic dog breeds have short snouts and flat faces that make regulating heat difficult. This group of dogs includes boxers, pugs, American bulldogs, and Brussels griffons.

Keep in mind that puppies and senior dogs can be more likely to experience heat stroke.¹ Senior dogs are likely to have pre-existing conditions, such as heart disease, that can make managing their body temperature very difficult. It’s best to work with your vet on how best to care for your puppy or older dog to prevent heat stroke.

Lastly, pets who are overweight or obese can be more likely to suffer during warm months.¹ The excess weight can make moving around and keeping cool very difficult. It’s best to work with your doctor to get them back to a healthy weight so they’re less at risk of heat stroke and other weight related issues.

MetLife Pet Insurance Is Ready for the Dog Days of Summer

With warm weather comes fun days and plenty of time outside. Your dogs are likely to be there every step of the way so it's important to be prepared.

Even with pet parents doing their best, accidents can happen, which could lead to expensive vet bills. With MetLife Pet’s dog insurance policies, pet parents can save money on the cost of hospitalization, medication, and other necessary treatments.4 By choosing pet insurance, you can focus on your pet's recovery. Get started with a free quote today!

Protect your Dog

Coverage in 3 Easy Steps

¹ “How Hot is Too Hot? Heatstroke in Dogs,” American Kennel Club

² “Warm Weather Pet Safety,” American Veterinary Medical Association

3 “How Hot Is Too Hot for Dogs To Be Outside? Here's What the Experts Say,” Daily Paws

4 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC. Reimbursement options include: 70%, 80%, 90% and 100%. In addition, there is also a 50% option for MetGen underwritten policies only and a 65% option for IAIC underwritten policies only.


Coverage underwritten and issued by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85254 or Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations. Application is subject to underwriting review. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC for details. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator for this coverage. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

L0423031412[exp0425][All States][DC,GU,MP,PR,VI]