Fully Vetted: Heat Stroke

Published 2:10 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2017

These “dog days of summer” provide many of us more time to spend outdoors with our furry friends. However, the warm weather also puts our pets at risk for heat stroke. Heat stroke is a very common, life-threatening emergency that requires immediate recognition and treatment. It occurs more frequently in dogs than cats, although it can occur in any animal species.

The most common cause of heat stroke is being left inside a hot vehicle. The temperature inside a vehicle can quickly rise to 40 degrees higher than the outdoor temperature. So, even on a 70-degree day, the inside of your car can reach 110 degrees! Studies have shown that cracking the windows does not make a difference.

Heat stroke may also occur when an animal is left outside in the heat and/or humidity, especially if there is not adequate water or shade. Exercise in hot/humid weather can also cause a pet to become overheated. 

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Certain physical factors, such as obesity and airway disease, may predispose a pet to heat stroke. “Brachycephalic,” or “short-nosed” dog breeds, such as bulldogs, Pekingese, pugs, and Boston terriers, have a particularly difficult time cooling themselves in the hot weather. Dogs cool by panting, which allows heat to dissipate from the surface of the tongue. The anatomy of brachycephalic dogs makes their panting less effective than that of their longer-nosed counterparts, causing them to work so hard to pant in an effort to cool themselves that they actually create more body heat in the process. This excessive panting also prevents adequate oxygen supply to the lungs, so these pets are not able to oxygenate properly.

Symptoms of heat stroke include panting, restlessness, drooling, and nasal discharge. The gums and tongue may appear dark or purple. Vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, and seizures may occur. The body temperature usually exceeds 105 degrees Fahrenheit when initial symptoms are noticed (normal body temperature for a dog or cat is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

If you suspect that your pet may be suffering from heat stroke, immediately remove the pet from the hot environment. Quickly place cool, wet towels in the armpits and groin regions.  Do NOT cool with ice! Do not force the pet to drink, but offer cool water and allow the pet to drink if they will do so on their own.

It is critical to have a pet with heat stroke seen by a veterinarian on an emergency basis. Many are in respiratory distress, and require a breathing tube and oxygen therapy. High body temperatures can also cause significant damage to the internal organs and brain. Your veterinarian will perform testing to determine which organs have been affected, and what further treatment is necessary. Many patients with heat stroke require intensive, round-the-clock care.

Our pets can’t tell us when they are feeling too hot, so it is our responsibility to keep them cool this summer, and to have them treated immediately if they show signs of heat stroke.
For more information, please visit www.veterinarypartner.com.