How to Tell If a Dog Is In Shock

By Jen Davis

Shock is a condition that occurs in your dog's body when his internal systems are not getting enough blood flow or oxygen to keep his body functioning normally. Shock can be triggered by any medical condition that impairs blood flow or restricts oxygen levels, including physical trauma, heart failure, anaphylactic reactions, peritonitis, dehydration, sepsis, hemorrhages and poisoning.

Shock Symptoms: Panting

A dog who is in shock or going into shock will begin to pant because he is not getting enough oxygen. His body is trying to bring in more oxygen by panting so he will be able to resume normal physical functions. Unfortunately, because shock is triggered by the loss of oxygenation in the blood rather than causing it, the panting is unlikely to improve the situation significantly. The average dog will take 10 to 30 breaths per minute. A dog who is panting will take up to 200 pants per minute. If you are unsure whether or not your dog is panting, you should count the rate of his physical breaths over the course of 15 seconds and multiply that number by four.

Shock Symptoms: Mucous Membranes

Your dog's mucous membranes are located in the tissue of his gums, lips, tongue the insides of his eyelids and the inside of the prepuce or vulva. The normal color of the mucous membranes is a healthy shade of pink. The mucous membranes of a dog who is in shock will change color.

Your dog may be in shock if his mucous membranes are any of the following colors:

  • Bright red
  • Brown
  • Pale pink
  • White
  • Yellow
  • Blue
  • Gray

The easiest way to check the color of your dog's mucous membranes is to lift the upper or lower lip and observe the color of the gums. If your dog has naturally mottled or discolored gums, you can check the color of the mucous membranes on his inner eyelid by gently pulling down on the skin just below the eye.

It is also a good idea to check your dog's capillary refill time. Do this by firmly pressing your finger against your dog's gums and observing how long it takes for the capillaries in the gums to refill and return the tissue to its previous color after you remove the pressure. It should not take more than 2 seconds in a healthy dog. Extended capillary refill times are another sign your dog may be in shock.

Shock Symptoms: Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a symptom of shock and it occurs when your dog's body temperature drops below 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Normal body temperature range for a dog is between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. The most accurate way to check your dog's body temperature is by inserting a lubricated rectal thermometer into your dog's rear end and taking his temperature. A dog who is experiencing hypothermia may be shivering, cold to the touch or extremely lethargic.

Shock Symptoms: Heart Rate

The normal heart rate for an adult dog is 70 to 180 beats per a minute. Toy breed adult dogs may have slightly faster heart rates, with the normal heart rate for these dogs being between 70 and 220 beats per minute.

If your dog is in shock, his heart rate may accelerate initially and then plunge to well below normal as his condition deteriorates. The heart rate of a dog in shock also may be irregular.

Expect that your dog's pulse will feel weak or disappear completely. His blood pressure will drop as his heart struggles to pump enough blood to keep his body functioning.

Shock Symptoms: Behavior

If your dog is in shock, he needs immediate veterinary care. While some dogs may behave aggressively or fearfully in reaction to the trauma, most will have difficulty performing even basic functions. It is not uncommon for a dog in shock to be weak, depressed, lethargic or even comatose.

Shock is a true emergency situation.