What is the difference between heat stroke and heat exhaustion?

dog laying in the grass

The summer season brings with it a plethora of activities to enjoy with your pets. However, as the temperature rises, so does the risk of heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll take a deep dive into understanding the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke in dogs. We will equip you with the knowledge you need to help keep your dog safe, healthy, and happy during the hot summer months.

Introduction to heat-related illnesses

Heat-related illnesses are a series of conditions that occur when your dog's body can no longer maintain a healthy temperature. This can happen if your dog is exposed to excessive heat, particularly if this is combined with high humidity or strenuous physical activity.

Heat-related illnesses in dogs range from mild conditions like heat exhaustion to more severe and potentially life-threatening conditions like heat stroke.

As a dog owner, it's imperative to understand the signs and symptoms of these conditions. The earlier owners notice and take action, the better the outcome.

It's also important to remember that some dogs are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses than others. Flat faced dogs, like bulldogs and pugs, older dogs, overweight dogs, and those with underlying health conditions are at greater risk.

What is heat exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur when your dog has an elevated body temperature and it typically occurs before a heat stroke.

When your dog sweats excessively, they lose large amounts of salt and water, which leads to heat exhaustion. If not promptly addressed, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.

In dogs, heat exhaustion is usually the result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures in combination with dehydration. This can happen if your dog doesn't have access to fresh water during hot weather, or if your dog is overexerting themselves physically in a hot environment.

It's important to remember that dogs can't sweat like humans do so they tend to retain heat. They primarily cool themselves by panting, and they can only sweat a little through their paw pads.

Clinical signs of heat exhaustion in dogs

Recognising the signs of heat exhaustion in dogs is crucial for prompt treatment and recovery.

Symptoms may include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lethargy
  • Bright red tongue and gums
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Vomiting or fainting

It's important to note that warning signs may not be immediately apparent. It might take some time for your dog to show signs of distress.

This is why it's advised to keep a close eye on your dog during hot weather, particularly if they are playing or exercising outdoors.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a more severe form of heat-related illness that occurs when your dog's body temperature rises dangerously high, usually an internal temperature above 39°C.

Unlike heat exhaustion, which can develop over time, heat stroke can strike quickly and without warning. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention.

Heat stroke in dogs can occur for a variety of reasons. This includes:

  • Being left in a hot car
  • Being restrained on a hot pavement
  • Being over-exerted during hot weather
  • Being left outside without access to shade or fresh water

It's important to remember that heat stroke can occur in any breed, but it's more common in flat faced dogs, older dogs, and overweight dogs.

Clinical signs of heat stroke in dogs

The symptoms of heat stroke in dogs are more severe than those of heat exhaustion.

They may include:

  • High body temperature (39°C)
  • Rapid and heavy panting
  • Dark or bright red tongue and gums
  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive drooling
  • Restlessness
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of coordination.

In severe cases, your dog may have seizures, become unconscious, or even die.

As with heat exhaustion, early detection of heat stroke symptoms is crucial. If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke, seek veterinary attention immediately. The sooner treatment is initiated, the better your dog's chances of survival.

Heat stroke vs heat exhaustion in dogs: The differences

When comparing heat stroke vs heat exhaustion in dogs, what are the differences?

The main difference lies in the severity of the condition. Heat exhaustion is a less severe condition that often precedes heat stroke.

It's characterised by excessive panting, drooling, and increased heart rate. If caught early, heat exhaustion can usually be treated at home by cooling your dog down and giving them plenty of water to drink.

Heat stroke, on the other hand, is a severe and life-threatening condition. It occurs when your dog's body temperature rises above 39°C.

Symptoms of heat stroke are more severe and can include seizures and loss of consciousness. Heat stroke requires immediate veterinary attention and treatment.

Prevention of heat-related illnesses in dogs

dog sticking face out of the cars window

Prevention is key when it comes to heat-related illnesses in dogs.

Here are some tips to help protect your dog during hot weather:

  • Provide plenty of fresh water and a cool spot for your dog.
  • Avoid exercising your dog during the hottest part of the day.
  • Never leave your dog in a parked car, even with the windows cracked.

Be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

What to do if your dog has heat exhaustion or heat stroke?

If you suspect your dog has heat exhaustion or heat stroke, it's advised to act quickly.

  1. Move them to a cooler area, provide plenty of drinking water, and cool down your dog's temperature by applying cool (not cold) water to their body. 
  2. Do not use ice or very cold water as it can lead to shock.

In the case of heat stroke, you may want to seek veterinary care. While waiting for veterinary assistance, continue to cool your dog down and offer small amounts of water to drink.

When to seek veterinary care for heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Any sign of heat stroke warrants immediate veterinary attention. Symptoms like:

  • High body temperature
  • Rapid and heavy panting
  • Dark or bright red tongue and gums
  • Excessive thirst
  • Drooling
  • Restlessness
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

These are all serious and should be addressed immediately. You can often treat heat exhaustion at home if caught early.

However, if your dog's symptoms persist or worsen, you may decide to seek veterinary care. It's always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your pet's health. Check out our other article for more signs of heat stroke in dogs.

What is the treatment for heat stroke?

When a dog's body temperature rises above normal, it can lead to organ damage and even death if not addressed promptly. So, what can we do to help treat heat stroke in dogs?

  1. Get your dog out of the heat and into a cool, shaded area.
  2. Contact your veterinarian. Heat stroke can have severe effects on a dog's health, and professional guidance is advised. Your veterinarian may recommend further cooling methods, such as using a fan or cold packs on your dog's paw pads and groin area.
  3. In some cases, intravenous fluids may be needed to re-hydrate your dog and restore their electrolyte balance. Medications may also be prescribed to help with any organ damage or inflammation caused by the heat stroke. Remember, prevention is always better than cure.
  4. Attempt to keep your dog hydrated, provide access to shade, and avoid exercising them during the hottest parts of the day. By being proactive in protecting your pets from heat stroke, you can ensure their safety and well-being during the summer months.


Understanding the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke in dogs is crucial for every pet owner. With this knowledge, you can protect your best friend from the dangers of heat-related illnesses and ensure they remain healthy and happy, even during the dog days of summer.

Prevention is better than cure, so take the necessary precautions and ensure your pet has a safe and enjoyable summer.

To ensure your furry friend is covered in case of emergencies, consider pet insurance. To get a pet insurance quote for your furry friend you can get a quote through our website by clicking here. If you would like to talk to one of our pet insurance team, you can get in touch with us on 0330 102 5748.

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