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Identifying & Treating Heat Stroke in Dogs

With the weather improving and summer around the corner, it is a wonderful time to get your dog out for exercise and hikes. Although this is a great time to be outside, dog owners need to take extra precautions against heat stroke during warm and hot weather. It is during these days that dogs are at most risk of developing a heat stroke. 

What is a heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a condition in which the body’s core temperature is so high that cells and proteins start to break down, and cause multi organ failure. It is life threatening.

How does my dog get a heat stroke?

Dogs may suffer a heat stroke from sustained exposure to high temperatures in their environment (being out on a hot day without access to shade/water, or left in a car), or from strenuous activity outside. Dogs do not dissipate heat the same way humans do. Unlike humans, dogs do not rely on sweat glands, they rely on panting. There are some conditions that may predispose dogs to a heat stroke:

  • Obesity
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Brachycephalic breeds
  • Cardiovascular disease

Signs of a heat stroke:

  • Rectal temperature >105
  • Excessive panting
  • Red gum color
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Collapse
  • Ruptured blood vessels under the skin
  • Loss of consciousness

I am concerned that my dog had a heat stroke, what should I do?

COOL THEM DOWN AND CALL A VETERINARIAN! The initial goal of therapy is to lower your dog’s core body temperature. There are several ways to do this. 

  • Start by offering your dog fresh, cold water
  • Move them to a cooler location, whether that be in the shade or inside where there is A/C.
  • Use cold wet towels or blankets to cover your dog. If you are near a pool or lake, consider letting them take a swim (as long as they are stable enough to support themselves)
  • If able, take your pet’s rectal temperature. Once it is below <103, stop cooling.

What should I do now?

Seek emergency veterinary medical attention immediately. Although your dog may seem better after you cool them down, the damage to their body may have already been done. Clinical changes caused by a heat stroke may not be evident until hours after the event. Even if you think your dog appears fine, they should still be assessed by a veterinarian.

What will happen at the hospital?

A veterinarian will perform an initial assessment on your dog. Recommendations of diagnostics and care will be based on the clinical assessment and history. Some initial diagnostics that may be performed are bloodwork which would include clotting factors, a blood pressure, and a point of care ultrasound. Treatment will vary greatly depending on the severity of the heat stroke, but may include IV fluids, plasma transfusions, and different medications. Prognosis will depend on the severity of the signs, but heat stroke can be fatal. At PetMedic we can provide most of the initial diagnostics and treatments for suspected heat strokes, but your dog will need to eventually be transferred to a veterinary ICU.

Pearls of wisdom:

  • In general, use basic judgment when having your dog out in the heat. If it is too hot for you to be outside with no shade or water, the same should go for your pet.
  • Mid day is the hottest time. If you are looking to take your dog for a walk on a hot day, it is best to go in the morning or early evening.
  •  Always make sure they have access to fresh, cool water and shade. 
  • If your dog is generally an outside dog, consider letting them inside when the temperature is too high. 
  • NEVER LEAVE YOUR DOG IN THE CAR! No matter the time of year, it is not safe to leave your pet inside a car. However, during the summer months, it is extremely dangerous to do so. Temperatures inside cars can easily skyrocket into the 100’s within a matter of minutes. 
  • Brachycephalic (squishy face dogs) are at a higher risk because of their anatomy. 
  • Overweight pets are also at a higher risk, along with those that have pre existing medical conditions such as laryngeal paralysis

To sum it all up:

Enjoy your summer and just remember to use good judgement when outside with your dog!

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