First Aid for
Heat Stroke


Heat Stroke or Hyperthermia

Heat stroke or hyperthermia occurs when an animal gets severely overheated, most commonly in the summer months.


         Pet is left in a parked car (the most common reason).

         Previous episode of heat stroke. Any pet with a history will be more susceptible in the future.

         Lack of appropriate shelter for an animal outdoors.

         Animal is not acclimated to the heat.

         Excessive exercise in hot, humid weather.

         Underlying disease state, especially heart or lung disease.

         Breed predispositions. Dogs with short snouts, such as bulldogs, are particularly susceptible to hyperthermia.

         Prolonged seizures.

         Heavy-coated dogs in warm climates.

TIP: Never leave your pet in a parked car! Even with the windows cracked, your pet can quickly suffer heat stroke - and even die!


         Excessive panting or difficulty breathing.

         Body temperature 104 Fahrenheit or above,

         Bloody diarrhea or vomit.

         Increased heart rate.

         Increased respiratory rate.

         Mucous membrane color is redder than normal.

         Capillary refill time it too quick.


         Depression, stupor (acting drunk), seizures or coma.

TIP: Dogs and cats don't have sweat glands so they can only dispel heat by panting and through the pads of their feet. Make sure your pets have plenty of cool water and shade during hot weather.

First Aid:

1.     Get your pet out of direct heat.

2.     Check for shock.

3.     Take the animal's temperature.

4.     Spray the animal with cool water. If using an outdoor hose, run the water for a minute or so to cool it off before spraying your pet. Spay for a minute or two, then retake the temperature.

5.     Place water-soaked towels on the head, neck, feet, chest and abdomen.

6.     Turn on a fan and point it in the animal's direction.

7.     Rub alcohol under the animal's front and back legs or on the pads. Do not use large quantities of alcohol (more than half a pint), as it can be toxic to dogs and cats.

8.     Take the animal to the nearest veterinary hospital immediately.

The goal is to decrease the body temperature to about 104 Fahrenheit in the first 10-15 minutes. Once 104 is reached, you must stop the cooling process. Even if you successfully cool your pet down to 104, you must take the animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Many consequences of hyperthermia won't show up for hours or even days. Some of these conditions can be fatal if not treated medically. Potential problems include:

         Kidney failure

         Problems with blood clotting

         Destruction of the digestive tract lining

         Neurologic problems, including seizures and swelling of the brain

         Abnormal heart rhythms

         Respiratory arrest

Excerpt taken from American Red Cross Pet First Aid Cats and Dogs, by Bobbie Mammato, DVM, MPH

Want more information?  Check out the following articles on heat stroke and heat stress from the Working Dogs website.

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