Heat stroke is a condition commonly seen at veterinary clinics in warm weather. My own dog, Ziggy, scared me on a hot day last summer, when we were at a dog park. He was so excited to play with the other dogs; he overexerted himself and developed heat stroke. Thankfully, I recognized the signs and was able to cool him down without any problems. I hope the following information can help prevent heat stroke in your own pet.
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke is a term for hyperthermia (elevated body temperature above 103oF). A dog’s normal body temperature is 100.5-102.5oF. A dog’s primary method of regulating body temperature is by panting. Heat stroke can happen at any time during hot weather, but most commonly it can occur during excessive or vigorous exercise, when left in cars with too little ventilation, or when left in a yard without access to shade.
Any dog may be affected by heat stroke. Brachycephalic dogs (flat faced dogs), such as Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boxers, may be at a greater risk of heat stroke. Overweight dogs are also at a higher risk. Cats can also develop heat stroke.
What are the signs of heatstroke?
Possible warning signs include:
- Heavy, rapid panting
- Salivating, drooling
- Anxiety, restlessness
- Lethargy, exhaustion
- Stumbling, staggering
- Bright red gums
- Vomiting or diarrhea
What can I do when I think my pet has heat stroke?
Heat stroke is a medical emergency, as it can cause organ damage, and can be a life threatening condition. Immediate action can help prevent complications.
Take the animal to the shade or a cooler location. Pour cool water over the pet, with a focus on the pet’s stomach, armpits, neck and feet. Rubbing alcohol can be placed on the paw pads. Avoid cold water or ice, as this can cool the pet too quickly and cause complications. Small amounts of drinking water may be offered, but do not force water into your pet’s mouth. Air conditioning and fans are also helpful ways of cooling your pet.
Once initial cooling measures are started, seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Call your veterinarian or emergency clinic to let them know you are on your way. Your veterinarian will assess your pet and their body temperature, and will continue cooling methods. Intravenous fluids, sedation and oxygen therapy may also be a part of the treatment plan. External cooling will be discontinued once your pet’s body temperature is within a normal range. Your veterinarian may want to monitor your pet for complications, depending on the severity of heat stroke.
How can I help prevent heat stroke?
- Monitor pets for signs of heat stroke during hot days
- Avoid excessive exercise on hot days, or exercise animals during the cooler parts of the day (early morning or evening)
- Provide frequent breaks during exercise
- Ensure adequate shade and fresh cool drinking water is available
- Keep pets in the cooler indoors during hot days
- Avoid leaving your pet in the car in warm weather
- Pets that have experienced heat stroke may be at greater risk of heat stroke in the future
Dr. Denise Lukacs