heat stroke in pets

Photo by Steve Freling of Motor Oomph

Heat stroke in pets can be a life-threatening condition.

Heat stroke in pets occurs when an animal’s core body temperature rises to dangerously high levels. The degree of body temperature elevation is directly related to the severity of secondary organ damage. Various factors such as obesity, thick hair coat, brachycephalic conformation (“smush-faced” dogs such as bulldogs, pugs, boxers, etc), strenuous exercise, water deprivation, or exposure to hot/humid weather, can predispose an animal to heat stroke.

A common heat stroke scenario involves a dog being left in a car “for just a second.”
In ambient temperatures (86°F), a car with windows partially rolled down can reach an internal temperature of 104°F within 16 minutes. These 16 minutes can be fatal to your pet.

Common heat stroke symptoms may include:
• Lethargy
• Weakness
• Excessive panting
• Drooling
• Glassy/glazed eyes
• Dark red gums
• Vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Collapse
• Unresponsiveness to commands

Heat stroke is a medical emergency therefore treatment should begin as soon as possible. If you feel your pet is suffering from heat stroke, immediately begin cooling their entire body (except head) with cool tap water. After cooling for at least five minutes, drive immediately to a veterinarian with the air conditioning on.

After arriving at the veterinary clinic, the animal will be evaluated and if necessary, additional cooling measures will be instituted. Blood work is typically performed to evaluate the animals underlying health status. Depending on the severity of the patient’s symptoms and blood work abnormalities, they may require multiple days of intensive care with aggressive medical management. Heat stroke patients require intravenous fluid therapy support, stomach protectants, antibiotics, and sometimes blood component therapy. Serial blood work evaluation is recommended to detect the systemic side effects of heat stroke including abnormal heart rhythms, liver damage, kidney failure, neurologic derangements, and abnormal blood clotting ability.

The prognosis for patients with heat stroke depends on the patient’s prior medical condition, the degree and duration of heat insult, and the response to medical therapy. Overall survival rate in dogs with heat stroke is approximately 50%. As heat stroke is a preventable condition, it is important to ensure that your pet has free access to both water and shade during the hot summer months.

Remember, concrete and asphalt can cause severe burns to your pet’s paw pads. If you are unable to hold the back of your hand on the ground for 20-30 seconds comfortably, then it is too hot for your pet!

Lindsay Vaughn
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