Heat Stroke In Dogs While Backpacking & Camping

You can save your dog's life by learning how to identify, treat, and prevent heat stroke in dogs.

Heat stroke in dogs; its real and if you care about your dog you need to know about it.

Similar to humans, heat stroke can come on suddenly and become severely debilitating.

Unfortunately for dogs, however, they are too fun-loving and too loyal to tell us to slow down for an extra drink of water or time in the shade.

Fortunately for us, heat stroke is easy to spot and even easier to prevent.

Keep reading to learn the signs and symptoms of heat stroke in dogs, what to do about it, and how to prevent it from happening to your dog.

Table Of Contents (click the titles to skip ahead):

Heat Stroke In Dogs

Planning on backpacking with a dog this summer?

Excited to take your dog camping or on their first hike?

As you already know from reading our previous post, backpacking with a dog can be a lot of fun if you’re well prepared and well equipped.

One of the biggest dangers facing trail dogs and urban canines alike is heat stroke or what is sometimes called heat exhaustion (heat stroke is actually a more advanced or severe stage of heat exhaustion).

During hotter months of the year your dog is still wearing their built-in sweater; putting them at danger of overheating.

Keeping your dog cool and safe can be fun for everyone and identifying the signs and symptoms of heat stroke is easy.

As an added bonus, heat stroke signs and symptoms are similar to those you may observe in humans—so the skills translate to helping observe possible heat stroke in people as well.

What Is Heat Stroke?

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, heat stroke is:

“A life threatening condition marked especially by cessation of sweating, extremely high body temperature, and collapse that results from prolonged exposure to high temperature.”

The CDC defines heat stroke as occurring when the body’s temperature rises rapidly and its cooling mechanism began to fail.

For dogs it is the same thing. The only difference being, they don’t have as efficient and numerous mechanisms for cooling down as humans do (sweating, panting, vasodilation, transpiration, etc).

Normal core body temperature for dogs is between 100-102.5°f (37.2-39.2°c).

Anything outside that range should be alarming and may require immediate intervention.

Note: Most veterinarians suggest checking your dog’s temperature rectally if you suspect they may be experiencing heat stroke.

It is also important to note, because dogs lack efficient cooling mechanisms, once they are overheated it can take a long time for their bodies to return to normal temperature.

So How Do Dogs Cool Down?

Dog Running In Water To Cool Down - Crux Range

Most of us know that dogs don’t sweat.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Dogs do sweat, just a little bit though.

We will get into that a little further on.

Importantly, however, there are a few other ways dogs keep themselves cool; let’s take a look at them all starting with panting.

Panting

The main way a dog cools down is through panting or what looks more like heavy-rapid breathing.

During panting air runs over the moist membranes of their mouth, throat, and respiratory tract all the way to the lungs.

That air movement causes moisture to evaporate and a cooling effect is created–essentially cooling your dog from the inside out.

One our biggest cooling strategies as humans is through sweat. Dogs don’t have that (again not entirely true), so panting is their biggest ally.

Excessive panting can also be an early sign of heat stroke (more on this below).

The key factor here is moisture.

If your dog does not have enough moisture in their body the air won’t have anything to evaporate and they will not benefit from the cooling effect of their breathing.

This means that while you are out being active with your dog you need to ensure that they have plenty of access to clean water.

Keeping them hydrated helps them keep themselves cool through panting.

Dogs Don’t Sweat

Not entirely true.

Dogs do sweat, a little, and it does help them cool down.

To help your dog achieve maximum cooling ability, however, you need to understand where they sweat.

Dogs have two types of sweat glands: Merocrine and Apocrine.

For our use, the terminology is not important. What is important, is where these glands are located.

Merocrine glands are actually located in your dog’s paws. When the weather is warm your dog can perspire through their paws.

Now, it’s a small amount of heat dissipation, but these glands can be used to help artificially cool your dog. We will discuss this in the cooling strategies below.

And just for knowledge sake, Apocrine glands are basically pheromone glands. They don’t really secrete sweat but release smell. Dogs are all about smell of course and these glands are a big part of that system.

Anyway, their Merocrine foot glands are the ones we will focus on to keep them cool.

Dogs Cool From The Bottom Up

So now we know that dogs actually use their paws to cool down.They also use their bellies to cool themselves.

Have you ever noticed when it’s hot out and you’re near a body of water your dog always wants to run over and stand in it?

This is because their bellies act to cool them off through convection. And putting their paws in the water helps cool through the glands we just talked about.

Understanding how dogs cool off will help you know the best actions to take if they do succumb to heat stroke.

Heat Stroke vs Heat Exhaustion In Dogs

Heat exhaustion is mild heat stroke or what could be considered the early stages of heat stroke.

Recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion and preventing it from turning into heat stroke is the ultimate goal.

Signs & Symptoms Of Heat Stroke In Dogs

In addition to the excessive panting discussed above, there are few more key signs to look for when evaluating your dog for heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Note: Some signs of heat exhaustion are similar to those of heat stroke. As a dog’s condition gets worse, those signs and symptoms will worsen in severity.

The key signs of heat stroke in dogs are:

  • Excessive panting or difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy or confusion
  • Lack of coordination
  • Glazed eyes
  • Convulsion
  • Gums and/or tongue blue or bright red in color
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Core temperature above 102.5°f (39.2°c)

One of the earliest signs that your dog is overheated is excessive panting.

Now, this can be hard to differentiate because dogs are always panting. What is important here is a change compared to their baseline.

As we discussed, panting helps dogs stay cool by running air over their mucous membranes. This helps moisture evaporate; creating a cooling effect.

When your dog is panting excessively a few things are occurring. Their body is working overtime, they are losing a lot of water, and they are attempting to compensate for excessive heat.

All of these things can lead to exhaustion.

When observing for possible dehydration or heat stroke in your dog, look at the texture and moisture of their nose.

Negative signs would be a dry, chapped, or cracking nose.

Also, dry gums or cotton-mouth, and bright red or blue gums and/or tongue can be signs to get your dog cooled and hydrated immediately.

Brachycephalic breeds like pugs and French bulldogs may be at increased risk for heat stroke.

Their ability to regulate temperature through panting is severely limited compared to other dogs. Exercise more caution with these dogs during the summer.

Tip: For those owners who use a muzzle or something similar, be sure that your dog’s panting is not impeded. Especially if they are unsupervised in the heat or you are out in high temperatures.

Lethargy, confusion, lack of coordination, loss of consciousness, and glazed eyes are all important warning signs that your dog might be experiencing heat stroke.

More importantly, they may be signs that heat exhaustion has progressed to heat stroke.

Prevention Of Heat Stroke In Dogs

Dog Hiking By Lake To Stay Cool & Prevent Heat Stroke

As with most things, prevention is the best strategy.

When it comes to your dogs and the heat, there are a few simple strategies you can employ to keep them cool and safe.

Strategies for prevention of heat stroke in your dog:

  • Provide ample opportunities for shade
  • Keep them hydrated
  • Sunscreen
  • Water all over
  • Cooling vest or collar
  • Visit your veterinarian

Ample opportunities for shade: This could be anything from choosing to walk on a shaded path instead of the beach, to bringing along a shade umbrella for your dog when at the lake or park.

Listen to your dog’s intuition. If they are pulling on the leash to seek out shade, give them some time to cool off.

Keep them hydrated: As you now know, dogs need moist mouths to help them stay cool.

Bring along plenty of water in a portable bottle or bowl and plan your trip where there are doggy fountains or clean-natural bodies of water.

As we’ve discussed before, dogs need to drink 8.5-17 oz. per every 10 lb. of body weight (55-110 ml/kg) of water per day.

Active dogs and dogs exposed to heat will require even more than this baseline amount—plan accordingly.

Sunscreen: Yup, there is sunscreen for dogs. Some breeds have more fair skin than others beneath their coats.

Additionally, take note if your dog has pink skin around their eyes or nose. These areas can be irritated or burned with too much sun exposure.

Water all over: The ideal situation here would be to walk or hike near a natural body of water where they can easily get in and out to cool themselves down.

At home, this is as simple as providing a small kiddy pool that you regularly refresh with cool water.

For long backpacking trips or hikes with little water, try out a cooling vest or cooling collar.

These simple vests are extremely effective at keeping your dog cool while protecting them from the sun.

As a bonus, dog cooling vests double as a doggy harness to attach a leash and make it easy to lift your dog up and over obstacles as needed.

Remember, the key to preventing full-blown heat stroke is prevention.

Keep your dog well hydrated, protected, and cool from the outset. Plan shade brakes and opportunities to cool down by getting their feet and bellies wet.

Treatment For Heat Stroke In Dogs

  • Cool them down externally focusing on paws, belly, and underarms.
  • Hydrate but don’t force water.
  • Call your veterinarian or Pet Help Line
  • Take their rectal temperature if possible

As with humans who suffer from heat stroke, the key intervention is rapid (but not too fast) external cooling with lots of fluids internally.

If your dog is lethargic or confused they may not be able to drink. At this point focus on cooling them down externally.

When dogs are unable to drink, keep their mouth and gums moist with a damp towel or clothe.

For owners with a dog cooling vest, squeeze out the old warm water and refresh it with cool water.

Again, the ideal would be to get most of their body into cool water like a lake or pool.

Use caution if your dog is lethargic, keep an eye on them to ensure their head does not drift underwater.

For those without access to a large body of water, there are still effective options.

Wet some large cloths or towels with cool water. Wrap their paws, belly, and armpits/legpits with the cool towels.

You may also want to wrap their neck and between their hind legs–basically the whole body–these are the important parts to hit though.

What Not To Do

It is generally inadvisable to use ice cubes or frozen things to cool your dog down.

For example, do not put them in a kiddy pool full of ice or lay them down on a frozen turkey.

Just like with humans, cooling your dog down too quickly can shock their system and cause more harm than good.

Garden hose water is usually the perfect temperature to help cool down your dog.

Do not leave them unattended and do not force them to drink or eat.

This seems like it should go without saying, but do not ever leave your dog unattended in a parked car when it is even moderately hot outside.

Even with all the windows cracked, the temperature inside a parked car can rise by 20° compared to the outside within minutes.

For example, if it is 90° outside, it could reach 120°+ inside the car within minutes.

Do Not Cut Their Hair

Shaving dogs for summer is very common and not necessarily wrong. But, there are some things to consider before taking this approach.

Dogs’ hair works to keep them warm but it also helps them stay cool.

Some dogs actually have two layers of fur; a thick undercoat and a lighter outer layer.

Each layer has a different purpose. While their hair helps prevent heat from evaporating it also helps to trap cool air near their skin and to shade them from harmful UV rays.

When dogs shed for the summer they lose the thick undercoats and keep the outer thinner layer. This is the layer that keeps them cool and protects them.

Most experts would agree that short-haired dogs have just the right amount of natural fur to keep them cool and should not be shaved.

For longer haired dogs the situation becomes a bit more complicated and is usually breed specific.

In most cases experts suggest a grooming or trim as opposed to full shaving. This is mostly for the two reasons mentioned above: keeping them cool and protecting them from direct sun.

If you would rather let nature takes its course, brushing them regularly will also help remove their winter coat so they are shiny and light for the warm months ahead.

Dog owners who are unsure of what type of fur their dog has, consult your veterinarian or a local groomer before taking matters into your own hands with the shaver.

How Hot Is Too Hot For Dogs

While there is no hard and fast rule on this, the general consensus among veterinarians and pet care professionals is ~90°f (32°c).

Now, this doesn’t mean your dog is going to start melting as soon as the temperature goes above 90°.

Rather, it means to use extreme caution with your dog in temperatures at or above this limit.

If you are going to exercise your dog in 90° weather, it is critical to ensure you have plenty of cool water, ample opportunity for shade, and some sort of cooling device like a cooling collar or vest.

Backpacking for humans in 90° weather wouldn’t be the greatest. For dogs it can be just as dangerous if not more so.

For backpacking trips or hikes in hot weather always be prepared and take into account your dogs fitness level, breed, and type of fur.

How Hot Is Too Hot For A Dog’s Paws

Again, there is no hard rule here.

General rule of thumb though, if you can’t put the back of you hand to the hot surface for more than 10-20 seconds, then it is probably too hot for your dog’s paws.

Even though paws are super tough, they can still be burnt by prolonged exposure to hot surfaces.

This will vary by breed and how outdoor ready your dog’s paws are.

As above, if it’s too hot for you it is probably too hot for your dog.

If you have to get outside when the pavement or trail is scorching, try some lightweight dog booties.

They work for hot and cold weather and are a great addition to your dog first aid kit as well.

Gear To Keep Your Dog Cool While Backpacking & Camping

Keeping your dog cool in the summer heat while backpacking or camping is going to require a bit of planning and a few key pieces of gear.

Don’t worry, everything is lightweight, packable, and simple.

And if your dog already has their own dog backpack they can carry their own cooling gear!

Best Gear For Keeping Your Dog Cool While Backpacking & Camping

Portable Dog Water Bottles

When it comes to drinking water for your dog, there are essentially two options:

  1. Carry a bottle of water and pour that into a portable bowl every time they drink.
  2. Bring a separate water bottle for your dog with an attached drinking trough.

At Crux Range, for day hikes we prefer a water bottle, for over-nighters we opt for the portable bowl.

Portable dog water bottles come in a variety of styles and sizes but we recommend one with a large drinking trough.

This makes it easier for your dog to drink without wasting water. An added bonus of the trough design, it makes it easy to pour the water they didn’t drink back into the bottle for later.

Gulpy Dog Water Bottle To Keep Dogs Hydrated And Prevent Heat Stroke

Our all-time favorite trough style dog water bottle is the Gulpy. They can be a little hard to find these days but if you can get one it will last forever. We’ve had this one for over five years without an issue.

Gulpy Pet Water Dispenser

Available in 20 oz. or 10 oz. the Gulpy has a large water trough to make drinking easy and spill-proof. Simple in design and durable, the Gulpy trough folds onto itself to make for a small footprint in your bag or pouch. Perfect size for short day hikes.

Gulpy Portable Water Bottle For Dogs

Portable Dog Bowls

A quality portable bowl is an essential piece of gear for backpacking or camping with a dog.

Ideally, get a bowl constructed of collapsible waterproof material so it can double as both a food and water bowl.

One of the best we have come across is the Ruffwear Quencher Bowl.

Ruffwear Quencher Bowl

Ruffwear’s original product, the Quencher Bowl doesn’t disappoint. Similar to the Trail Runner bowl, it’s lightweight and packable. But the design is more sturdy, making it better able to stand up on its own when filled with water.
• Sturdy self-standing design
• Available in 3 sizes
• Works for food & water
• Durable material & construction
Diameter: 2.5-7 inches/6.3-18 cm
Volume: 25-83 oz./750-2500 ml

Ruffwear Quencher Bowl

For an even lighter and more packable bowl, check out the Trail Runner bowl. This durable option doesn’t hold its form quite as well with water but it stuffs down to the size of a credit card for easy carrying.

Ruffwear Trail Runner Bowl

The Trail Runner Bowl is about as light and packable as a bowl can get. PVC coated fabric to handle anything you throw at it, this bowl dries quickly and stands up to wear and tear.
• Ultralight & packable
• Works for food & water
• Self-contained in carry pouch
Diameter: 6 inches/15 cm
Volume: 32 oz./1 L

Ruffwear Trail Runner Bowl

Dog Booties For Summer

Dog booties are an essential piece of gear in many ways.

Aside from protecting your dog’s paws from sharp rocks, salt, glass, or when they have a paw wound; dog booties also serve to protect dog’s feet from hot surfaces during the summer.

Whether you are hiking in the desert or the forest, the ground can get really hot and this can damage your dog’s paws.

Additionally, hunting dogs charging through the water or dogs out playing in the lake may snag their feet on branches or other unseen obstacles.

At the very least, keep a pair of booties with your for first aid in case your dog does get a paw injury or the ground heats up to an unbearable temperature.

Booties with high ankle fabric seem to stay on best but may not be tolerated by some dogs. Another option is lightweight booties with a thick sole for longer distance.

For an all season dog bootie check out Neo-Paws.

All Seaons Dog Booties By Neo Paws

A bootie better suited for trail dogs and backpacking might be the Ruffwear Grip Trex.

Ruffwear Grip Trex Dog Booties

Made with a rugged all-terrain Vibram sole, the Grip Trex are made for the most adventurous dogs.
• Ultralight & packable
• Quick drying
• Secure cinch strap
• Available as pair or set of 4

Dog Booties For Summer Backpacking

Dog Cooling Vests

For extreme heat or prolonged heat exposure, a cooling vest can be critical in preventing heat stroke in dogs.

Even in mild conditions, these simple pieces of dog gear can help older pets or brachycephalic dogs better tolerate hot conditions.

Ruffwear Jet Stream Dog Cooling Vest

As you know from reading above, dogs cool from the bottom up. The Jet Stream is one of the only cooling vests on the market that covers your dog’s belly as well as their back in a single piece of fabric. Durable, lightweight, and made to last the Jet Stream is definitely cool.
• Secure zipper closure
• Ergonomic design to reduce chaffing
• Wraps around belly & back
• Available in 2 color options

Jet Stream Dog Cooling Vest

Summary

Heatstroke in dogs is a real danger that can be life threatening.

Fortunately, heat stroke and its precursor—heat exhaustion—are easy to identify and even easier to prevent.

Knowing what to look for and what to do about the signs and symptoms of heat stroke in dogs is critical to keeping your pup cool and safe while enjoying these warmer months in the outdoors.

Here is a great video from Animal Care TV that summarizes what we talked about followed by an articles summary of the big questions.

  1. What causes heat stroke in dogs?

    As with humans, heat stroke in dogs is caused by prolonged exposure to heat where the body’s cooling mechanisms began to fail and core body temperature rises to an unhealthy degree. Dog's cooling mechanisms are less efficient than a human’s. Therefore, dogs are at an increased risk for heat stroke.

  2. What are the signs of heat stroke in dogs?

    • Excessive panting or difficulty breathing
    • Lethargy or confusion
    • Lack of coordination
    • Glazed eyes
    • Convulsion
    • Gums and/or tongue blue or bright red in color
    • Diarrhea
    • Vomiting
    • Rectal bleeding
    • Core temperature above 102.5°f (39.2°c)

  3. What is the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion in dogs?

    While often used synonymously, heat exhaustion is actually the early stages of heat stroke. Importantly, heat exhaustion is more easily reversible. Some signs will be similar to those of heat stroke, only less severe. Signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke (in order of early to late signs) in dogs include but are not limited to:
    • Excessive panting or difficulty breathing
    • Lethargy or confusion
    • Lack of coordination
    • Glazed eyes
    • Gums or tongue blue or bright red in color
    • Convulsion
    • Diarrhea
    • Vomiting
    • Rectal bleeding
    • Core temperature above 102.5°f (39.2°c)

  4. How To Prevent Heat Stroke In Dogs?

    Prevention is simple and intuitive. When backpacking or exercising with your dog in hot temperatures ensure you are prepared and informed.
    • Bring along plenty of water (or plan water stops along the way).
    • Allow for ample shade breaks.
    • Keep your dog cool with a cooling vest or cooling collar.
    • Allow them to wade in shallow water or wet their paws and underside to provide the most effective cooling.
    • Ensure their fur is properly groomed.

  5. How To Treat Heat Stroke In Dogs?

    • Cool them down externally focusing on paws, belly, and underarms.
    • Hydrate but don’t force water. Use a damp towel to moisten their mouth if they are unable to drink.
    • Call your veterinarian or Pet Help Line.
    • Take their rectal temperature if possible.

Now you know how to identify heat stroke in dogs and what to do about it.

Hopefully this has helped get you and your favorite pooch ready for the outdoor season ahead.

Let us know what you found useful and what we can add to improve this guide.

How will you keep your dog cool while backpacking or camping in the summer?

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The activities described herein can be dangerous and possess inherent risk. The content provided is not intended as an expert opinion or advice. Seek proper instruction or appropriate medical advice from qualified professionals to learn the necessary skills to participate in any of the activities or regimes described herein. See Disclosure & Disclaimer for more info.

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