PSA: Heat stroke and dogs

Kirby seems to have completely recovered from his ordeal.

Over the weekend one of my dogs became dangerously over heated. No, he wasn’t locked in a parked car or tied out in the sun. We were out for a walk on a warm but not overly hot day. But it proved to be too much for him. Since dogs can cool themselves only by panting, once they start to overheat, they can get in trouble fast.

I have two dogs — both of which are getting on in years. Kirby, my Westie, is about 13 and for the past six months he’s been suffering from a mysterious respiratory problem. I know, he’s a Westie, so that probably means he’s allergic to something, but after $1,000 in diagnostics, we’re only closer to an answer in that we know what isn’t bothering him — namely, his heart and lungs seem to be fine.

For the most part, he’s cheerful and comfortable. He likes to go on walks as long as we don’t go too fast. The evening before, we’d done the walk with no problem. We set out that morning to cover the mile or so walk at a leisurely pace. After we’d gone a little more than half way, he started to tire and we took a break. My other dog (who’s about 12) was still full of energy and their was a nice breeze.

Kirby was slowing down, but that’s not unusual. Then, he started panting hard and wanted to lie down. When we got to the end of the long driveway — probably a quarter of a mile to go — and he lay down and didn’t want to get up. His saliva was quite viscous and he was obviously in distress.

I had forgotten my cell phone or I would have called for help. I was just about to start carrying him back when I spotted a kid driving a golf car. Normally, I find the kids who drive the carts on the side roads irritatingly dangerous but I could have hugged this one. She drove us right up to the front door of my mother’s house.

First I got him some water and then I hosed him down with cool water. His breathing slowly came back to normal and he started to look more alert. I’m very glad that I was able to cool him down so quickly and I read later that it’s more important to cool a dog down than to try to take them right to the vet

Signs of heat distress in dogs

  • The first signs are heavy panting and difficulty in breathing.
  • The dog’s saliva becomes thick and excessive (just because your dog is drooling, it does not mean he isn’t also dehydrated)
  • Respiratory and heart rate increases.
  • Your dog may vomit or have diarrhea.
  • If your dog’s tongue and gums start to appear bright red, heat stroke is more likely.
  • Your dog then may start to stagger.
  • Rectal temperatures rise to 104° to 110°F (not possible to measure if you’re out walking)
  •  If your dog doesn’t get treatment soon, it could go into a coma and die.


  • Start cooling your dog as soon as possible by moving your dog into a cool environment and immersing him in cool water. You can put them in an air conditioned room or put a wet dog in front of an electric fan.
  • You can apply soaked towels (not ice) between its legs and on its neck. Ice can make the situation worse.
  • Continue to cool your dog until his rectal temperature falls to below 103°F and then stop and dry your dog so that hypothermia doesn’t set in.

Learn from my mistake

Kirby, thankfully, recovered fine from his experience but after reading about the seriousness of heat stroke in dogs, I know we are lucky. I hope that others will learn from my mistake and take particular care with older dogs and dogs who have respiratory conditions on hot days. Although my other dog was not affected by the heat, I underestimated how much more he is affected by the heat this year.

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