Jun 01 2015

Heat Stroke

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke is a true emergency that occurs when your dog’s core body temperature becomes severely elevated (rectal temperature of more than 105 degrees).  This condition can be fatal if not treated appropriately.  Read on to see how you can reduce your dog’s chance of developing heat stroke and what to do if you are concerned that your dog may be at risk.


What can cause heat stroke?

This time of year, the most common cause of heat stroke is excessive temperature outside.  This can be worsened by a lack of adequate shade, too much exercise outside in the heat or leaving a dog in the car without proper ventilation.  Did you know that even on a mild 70 degree day, the temperature inside an enclosed vehicle can rise as quickly as 40 degrees per hour?!  Your pet can quickly overheat, even if only left in the car for a short period of time.

Other causes of heat stroke include prolonged seizures and dogs with airway disease that may reduce their ability to pant correctly.  This includes dogs with short noses (like pugs and bulldogs) or dogs with obstructive airway disease (like laryngeal paralysis), as well as overweight or obese dogs.  Since dogs do not sweat, they instead use panting as a way to keep their body temperature regulated.  If they are not able to pant properly, their body temperature may quickly rise, even in more mild weather conditions.

What can happen if my dog does develop heat stroke?

A dog with heat stroke will initially show signs of distress, including excessive panting, restlessness, drooling and weakness or unsteadiness.  You may also notice a change in the gum color, such as bright red or blue/purple which can be caused by a lack of good oxygen circulation.

When the core body temperature becomes severely elevated, even for a short period of time, there can be catastrophic effects throughout your dog’s system.  The heart muscle can quickly become damaged, causing an irregular heart rate and even fluid build-up within the lungs.  The high temperature can affect blood cells within the body, leading to difficulties in the ability to properly clot the blood.  In severe cases, this can lead to a condition known as DIC, which causes spontaneous bleeding and often death.  The kidneys and brain are also very sensitive to temperature elevations and can be severely damaged by heat stroke.

What should I do if my dog’s temperature becomes severely elevated?

Immediately remove your dog from the environment where this occurred.  Your dog should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.  In some cases, your vet may recommend that you try to cool your dog some before you put them in the car to come to the clinic. Some safe ways to cool your dog include placing them in front of a fan indoors or in a shaded area, placing cool, wet towels over the armpits and groin where they will more easily contact the skin or placing your dog into a tub of room temperature water.  Do NOT ever place a heat stroke dog into cold water or apply ice packs to try to cool them more quickly.  This can cause the skin’s blood vessels to constrict, which creates a layer of tissue insulation which actually works to hold in heat at the core.  Even if you are able to return your dog to a normal body temperature, it is still crucial that he/she is evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible to address the other more severe complications associated with heat stroke (see above).  It is very helpful to take your dog’s temperature at the first sign of distress, before you attempt to cool them.  This information will be important for your veterinarian to know as they begin to evaluate your pet, especially since cooling measures at home may decrease your dog’s temperature by the time you arrive.

If you are concerned that your dog may have developed heat stroke, please call us (or the Airport Pet Emergency Clinic, if we are closed) as soon as possible.  The sooner we start treatment, the better chance of a complete recovery for your dog!

jfreeman | Oliver's Blog

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