Do you know if your dog has heatstroke?

White dog canicrossing with womens leg in background

Dogs don’t just die in hot cars. A much greater percentage of dogs now die from overheating while exercising, whether that be walking or running. The canicross season runs from September through to Easter, and the extreme ends of the season can still be very hot.

Together with Michelle Mortimer, a fellow canicross instructor, we chatted to canine researchers Anne Carter and small animal vet Emily Hall from about recognising the early signs of heat stroke in dogs. Anne, like myself and Louise, is a keen canicrosser – but what are the risk factors for our dogs of exercising them in the heat, and what should we be looking out for?

Watch the full video above but the summary of the main points is below.

Human definitions of heatstroke are based on how we feel, but we have to observe our dogs closely.

The early signs of heatstroke in dogs can include:
– Excessive panting, that doesn’t ease when you stop the activity
– A longer, or spade shaped, tongue
– A reluctance to move, or lethargy
– Changes in how your dog moves, such as poor coordination

If not caught early, severe heatstroke can be fatal, and symptoms can include:
– Confusion
– Seizures
– Diarrhoea and vomiting, which may contain blood
– Bleeding under the skin
– Losing consciousness

Cooling your dog in an emergency

It’s important to cool your dog quickly, if you suspect it is suffering heatstroke.

– Stop the activity you’re doing
– Find shade
– Douse the dog in water (river, hose, wet towel, whatever you can find, or use car aircon)
– Get your dog to a vet quickly if you’re worried

General tips to keep your dog cool

  • Give the dog opportunity for shade – never restrict a dog to an area like a house, conservatory or car which can heat up very quickly.
  • Give your dog access to water, whether that be a paddling pool or a wet towel at home, or walking them somewhere shady near water. Cooling coats can be good but be careful to keep these damp and cool regularly otherwise they can cause the animal to overheat too.

Older dogs with cognitive decline may not be aware they are overheating – and are more likely to be dehydrated, so keep a close eye on elderly dogs.

Humidity, temperature, wind speed and solar radiation can all affect the ‘feels like’ temperature. Humidity affects dogs’ capacity to cool themselves. Panting is the primary method of cooling and it is reliant on the evaporation of water, so the more moisture the air your dog is inhaling contains, the more difficult it is to cool.

Dogs don’t just die in hot cars; a lot of dogs overheat by their owners exerting them too much in hot temperatures (this includes walking as well as running), as they can’t cool themselves as effectively as we can. The key is knowing what’s normal for your dog. Some dogs can deal with heat better than others, and some dogs will keep going even if they feel hot – they are at risk of overdoing it.

If you are questioning whether it’s too hot, it’s probably too hot. Always err on the side of caution.

More info and research at