Were You Smarter Than a Vet Student About Canine Heatstroke?

Photo Credit: Thanks to all of you who tested your knowledge about heatstroke in dogs. Below you will find the answers you’ve been waiting for!

Kathleen, one of my regular readers, told me that four San Quentin inmates who participate in the prison’s Pen Pal Program took this quiz and are eagerly awaiting the answers. The Pen Pal Program, sponsored by the Marin Humane Society, pairs shelter dogs in need of training with San Quentin inmates. Sandy, the dog on the cover of Speaking for Spot was a Pen Pal Program graduate.

Congratulations to Susan Isaacs, a dog trainer in southern California. She is the lucky winner of the book drawing. She told me that she already has both of my books and asked me to donate a book to a rescue organization or shelter. I shall do exactly that.


A. If you suspect that your dog has heatstroke the best thing to do is:

  1. Give your dog one adult strength aspirin and then proceed immediately to the closest veterinary hospital.
  2. Spend a few minutes cooling your dog down with cold water and then proceed immediately to the closest veterinary hospital.
  3. Transport your dog immediately to the closest veterinary hospital.
  4. Quickly call the veterinary hospital to find out whether or not the symptoms you are observing warrant treatment.

The ideal thing to do is spend a few minutes thoroughly wetting your dog down so as to lower his body temperature a bit before the car ride to the veterinary hospital. Doing so will enhance his chances for recovery. Cool, but not icy cold water should be used in order to avoid too rapid a reduction in body temperature. Use of a garden hose is ideal to quickly accomplish the wetting process. Cool wet towels and/or ice packs along with the car’s air conditioner can be used during transport. Remember to spend no more than a few minutes with this as delaying veterinary care might decrease the possibility of recovery. If you suspect heatstroke, your dog should be evaluated by a veterinarian just as soon as possible. No sense spending time on the phone. Hop in the car and get going.

B. Dogs cannot dissipate (release) heat through:

  1. Their mouth.
  2. The sweat glands on the undersides of their paws.
  3. The sweat glands in their ears.
  4. The sweat glands on the underside of their abdomen.

The primary way dogs dissipate heat is via panting. There are sweat glands in the ears and on the undersides of the paws (none on the underside of the abdomen), but they have only a limited capacity to cool a dog down.

C. Which one of the following is not a common symptom of heatstroke?

  1. Collapse
  2. Heavy panting
  3. Vomiting
  4. Coughing

Symptoms of heatstroke can include heavy panting, weakness, uncoordinated gait, collapse, darker than normal appearing tongue and gums, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Coughing is not an anticipated heatstroke symptom.

D. Which of the following statements is true?

  1. Most dogs will regulate their activity level so as to prevent heatstroke.
  2. Adequate water intake will prevent heatstroke.
  3. Most dogs fully recover from heatstroke if they receive aggressive veterinary care.
  4. Heatstroke can occur on a cool day.

Believe it or not, with excess exertion, heatstroke can occur even on a cool day. Think of the tennis ball-addicted dog who keeps on fetching as long as someone keeps on throwing. Drinking lots of water helps, but won’t prevent heatstroke for dogs who work too hard in the heat. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that, even with aggressive veterinary care, many dogs with heatstroke fail to recover. Death is associated with blood clotting abnormalities, neurological damage, and/or organ failure.

E. Which of the following characteristics will not impact a dog’s predisposition to heatstroke?

  1. The shape of the dog’s face
  2. The length of the dog’s ears
  3. The dog’s body condition score (indicates whether a dog is too thin, too fat, or just right)
  4. The dog’s age

Smoosh-faced dogs such as Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boston Terriers are super-challenged in the heat. These brachycephalic (short-headed) breeds cannot move air effectively enough through their tiny airways to adequately dissipate body heat. Additionally, the exertion necessary for them to breathe heavily, even in normal conditions, can elevate their body temperature. Overweight dogs and older dogs are more prone to heatstroke. There is no known correlation between ear length and susceptibility to heatstroke.

F. Which answer is true?

  1. It is okay to leave your dog in your car on a hot day as long as the windows are rolled down all the way.
  2. It is okay to leave your dog in your car on a hot day as longs as he has access to plenty of water.
  3. It is okay to leave your dog in a car on a hot day as long as the time does not exceed ten minutes.
  4. It is never okay to leave your dog in a car on a hot day.

Every year, some folks convince themselves that it’s okay to leave the dog in the car on a hot day because, “I’m only going to pop into the store for just a few minutes,” or, “I’ll park in the shade.” Nope! Plainly and simply put, it is never okay to leave a dog (or any other living creature) in the car on a hot day. Some people want to get around this by leaving their dog in the car with the engine and air conditioning running. If you ask me, this is risky business.

G. Which disease predisposes a dog to heatstroke?

  1. Laryngeal paralysis (dysfunction of the opening to the windpipe)
  2. Heartworm disease
  3. Kidney failure
  4. All of the above

A dog’s ability to get rid of excess body heat relies on normal blood circulation. Dogs with kidney failure often operate in a mildly dehydrated state that dampens normal blood circulation. Heartworm disease poses a double whammy. Secondary heart changes can reduce blood circulation, and, if the lungs are affected, the dog’s ability to dissipate heat via panting may be reduced. Laryngeal paralysis refers to immobilization of the cartilage structures that control airflow from the mouth and nose into the windpipe. This disease interferes with the normal panting process.

H. On a hot day it is best to

  1. Exercise your dog early in the morning or during evening hours.
  2. Leave your dog in your air conditioned home rather than taking him with you in your car to run errands.
  3. Go swimming and eat lots of ice cream.
  4. All of the above!

No explanation needed!

Thanks for playing along! How did you do? What is your strategy if you see a dog locked in a car on a hot day?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.






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4 Comments on “Were You Smarter Than a Vet Student About Canine Heatstroke?

  1. I loved this quiz!!! Very thought provoking :)

  2. If I see a dog locked in a car on a hot day, I immediately scan nearby for an owner and quick assess whether the dog is in trouble, Then, I go into the nearby business(es) and tell the employees that there is a dog locked in the car, ask for their help finding the owners, and advise that I will be calling the police for help if the owners are not found quickly.

    If it gets down to it, I keep a glass breaker in my car, but that is a last resort. It’s not a good idea to release an animal of unknown temperament into a parking lot that’s most likely on a busy road after scaring it by breaking out the windows. Breaking windows is also a crime even when it is done with good intentions.

  3. Congratulations to Susan Issacs, and oh, the Pembrokes in the kiddie pool. Maybe I will try a pool for the GSD.