Heatstroke in dogs: It’s preventable!

This being an El Niño year, we're all in the same boat: Sweating buckets. Surviving on a diet of frozen drinks and ice cream. (No? Just me? 👀) And stressing out about Fido's well-being. Because sweltering heat made worse by no-joke humidity means serious business, like doing everything possible to avert heatstroke!

What is heatstroke?

Heatstroke is an umbrella term most of us use to refer to a range of mild to critical outcomes of heat-related illness (HRI) in dogs. It's a condition caused by physical activity or high heat and humidity.

HRI happens when the dog's natural cooling mechanisms can't regulate body temperature. This results in discomfort, frustration, sometimes panic, and other bodily changes that can be fatal.

Risk factors include:

  • Muggy weather*
  • Exercise
  • Vehicular confinement
  • Obesity
  • Advanced age
  • Pre-existing medical conditions (e.g. heart disease)
  • Certain medications (e.g. diuretics)

* When relative humidity is >35%, panting becomes less effective. When humidity is >80%, panting, as a cooling mechanism, no longer works.

Some dog breeds also have a higher likelihood of developing hyperthermia. These are:

  • Large breeds (>15kg bodyweight)
  • Brachycephalic breeds (e.g. Bulldogs)
  • Thick hair, double-coated dogs (e.g. Border Collies)

No surprises yet, right? Stick around. Our research revealed shockers you shouldn’t miss. 🤯

Stages of heatstroke

First up: Did you know there are actually three stages of hyperthermia?

Stage 1: Heat stress

Dogs experience this when ambient temperature exceeds the thermoneutral zone, i.e. the limits for maintaining a normal body temperature without using up energy.

At this first stage, puppers are still mentally aware and capable of walking unassisted.


  • Change in attitude, focus, and energy level
  • Increased thirst and panting
  • Thick, pasty saliva
  • Muscle spasms or cramps
  • Changes in gum colour (pale, dark red, purple, blue)

Stage 2: Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is more serious than heat stress. While doggos are mentally aware, they may be unable to react, unable to move, and more likely to collapse. This is when things get scary, so head to your vet, stat.


  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry mouth, gums, and nose
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Visible weakness, stumbling
  • Skin lacks elasticity

Stage 3: Heatstroke

Heatstroke is the most severe form of hyperthermia. It's a medical emergency that requires immediate vet attention and hospitalisation.

At this life-threatening stage, the dog's elevated core temperature can cause permanent brain damage, multiple organ failure, and death.


  • Dark, little, or no urine
  • Slow, wobbly walking, lack of coordination
  • Confusion, disorientation, or unresponsiveness
  • Head tremors, seizures
  • Collapse

Dog heatstroke survival rates

Remember the shockers we promised? Brace yourself for some real eye-openers.

  • Recorded HRI fatality rates range from 14% to 50% in Australia.
  • Exertional heatstroke is just as likely to kill as environmental heatstroke.
  • The survival rate drops drastically (<90 minutes = 62%, >90 minutes = 27%) the longer it takes to seek medical attention.
  • For every affected organ, the survival rate decreases by 25%.

First-aid and treatment

The best treatment is at the nearest vet clinic/animal hospital. But it can take a hot minute to get there, so remember these first-aid tips.

  • Immediately stop all physical activities with your dog.
  • Move Fido to a shaded area with a breeze.
  • Give your dog fresh water.
  • Soak a towel in cool water, then apply it to the paw pads, armpits, and underbelly.
  • Gently wet the ears and head with a moist cloth.

Just as there are first-aid dos, there are also first-aid don’ts. (These may flip the script on everything you thought you knew about handling heatstroke.)

  • NEVER pour water directly onto the face—it’s a drowning hazard.
  • NEVER use chilly water/submerge your dog in an ice bath. This can worsen its condition.
  • NEVER wrap the dog in a wet towel (and leave him so), as this can trap heat. Drape and continuously replace wet towels instead.
  • NEVER delay vet care. Cells die within minutes once a 49-50°C body temperature is reached.

Heatstroke is predictable and preventable

Finally, some good news! 😮‍💨 Here’s how to protect your pet when the mercury rises. (But these are just the tip of the iceberg on pet summer safety.)

  • Keep fur babies in well-ventilated spaces. Fans and air cons are a plus!
  • Ensure whole-day access to shade and plenty of water.
  • Avoid strenuous activities; switch to water play or puzzle toys.
  • Trim your dog's coat.
  • Prevent overheating with this no-fuss cooling bandana.

The no-sweat solution for proactive pet parents

With our changing global climate, erratic weather patterns, and longer summers, HRI is no longer just a December-to-February concern. It's a very present threat for much of the year! A reality we need to be aware of, alert to, and prepared for.

You know what really helps? Genius accessories like PetLab’s Dog Cooling Bandana.

It’s made from innovative, cool-to-touch nylon developed to absorb excess body heat. Functional fashion that fits easily around your pup’s neck (where blood vessels are close to the skin) to rapidly reduce thermal discomfort.

Soak the lightweight bandana in cool water and wring it out, or pop it in the freezer for a few minutes. Presto: Instant cooling relief—for hours! Then you’re good to go wherever our sunny days take you.

Memo to pet parents: Don’t leave home without it. 😉

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It is not and does not intend to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information on this website is at your own risk. Always consult with your veterinarian.


Get Our

15-Minute Speed Cleaning Routine For Pet Parents


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published