Is my dog overheating?

Overheating in dogs is a dangerous situation that can prove fatal. Leading vet, Robin Hargreaves, explains how to prevent overheating and what to do if your dog is affected.

While we dog owners are very familiar with the message that dogs can die in hot cars, overheating, or hyperthermia, frequently happens at home, and can prove fatal.

So, make sure your dog stays cool and hydrated, and should you have concerns...

If you think your dog is overheating:

1. Immediately remove them from the source of the heat

2. Reduce their temperature by placing a towel on them and pouring cool (not cold) water over it

3. Unless there is a rapid return to normal breathing, get to a vet immediately in a well-ventilated pre-cooled vehicle. 

Dogs at higher risk

Dogs with poor circulation and respiratory function, or are overweight, are at a higher risk from the heat.

Older dogs will often fall into this category, along with dogs with short faces and/ or small nostrils – the brachycephalic breeds such as French Bulldogs and Pugs.

Because these dogs’ bodies are less able to cope with temperature extremes, they are already closer to the crisis point for overheating. It’s therefore crucial to be aware of seemingly harmless situations that could quickly cause them to overheat - such as sitting by a sunny window, in a warm conservatory, or travelling in a warm car.

Overheating can happen fast

Putting a dog in a hot car to set off for a journey is dangerous, even if you leave immediately. Higher-risk dogs with small nostrils, or that are overweight, have circulatory problems, are elderly, or are vulnerable in any other way, can reach the point of heatstroke before your car has cooled down.

So, on scorching days, cool your car down before you put your dog in, or you very quickly risk a veterinary emergency.

Lying in a hot place and over-exercising in high temperatures can also rapidly lead to heatstroke. Never assume that because your dog is happy to join you on a walk in the heat, they are fine. Heatstroke can develop quickly, and if this happens on a walk with no access to fast cooling, you could have a dire situation on your hands.

Signs of overheating

Excessive panting is the first warning sign that your dog is overheating. If you see this, don’t wait for more symptoms – cool them down immediately.

The quickest and simplest way to do this is to remove them instantly from the heat source and into a cool environment. Dogs cannot cool themselves down by sweating, but we can create the effects of sweating for them with a damp towel.

Lay the towel over the dog’s body and pour cool (not cold) water over it. This allows the heat from your dog to evaporate the water and reduce their temperature. A fan can also help to speed up the process.

Life-threatening warning signs

Once overheating has developed, your dog may:

· Become restless and show discomfort

· Vomit 

· Have diarrhea 

· Drool excessively

· Have an increased heart rate

· Lose coordination, have seizures or muscle tremors

These symptoms represent a life-threatening veterinary emergency, so follow the cooling steps above while getting them into a cool car and to the vet immediately. Dogs that are seriously overheating may need oxygen, fluids, or other treatment, and they must get the care they need urgently.

With a Kennel Club Pet Insurance policy, you can access the free Pet Health Helpline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The veterinary-trained team will advise on any concerns or queries that you may have over your pet’s health – much like the NHS 111 service for people. Call free on 03333 32 19 47.