Heat stroke in dogs... what you NEED to know

With the warm weather creeping in and summer not far off, this is an incredibly important topic to be aware of. Heat stroke can be a killer, particularly in brachycephalic breeds with compromised airways. It occurs when the core temperature rises above 41 degrees.

Unlike humans who sweat, dogs get rid of excess heat by panting. When panting is no longer enough their body temperature rises dangerously high and heat stroke occurs. If not treated immediately it can be fatal.

Heat stroke can affect cats as well but is uncommon, they exhibit similar signs.


There are 3 types of hyperthermia

  • Heat stress where there is increased thirst and panting, the dog is mentally aware and moving about.

  • Heat exhaustion is more severe, associated with significant increase in thirst, weakness, heavy panting. The dogs are mentally aware but too weak to react normally, they may collapse.

  • Heat stroke is the most severe type of hyperthermia and the dogs temperature is >41.1 degrees. Neurological and organ dysfunction and failure can occur at this high temperature. temperatures >43 degrees destroy proteins which make up the foundation of all cells which can lead to death.

Some breeds are more prone to heat stroke than others. Dogs with a thick coat, obesity, short noses or those with underlying medical conditions can be at greater risk.

All dogs should be closely monitored on hot days and the obvious NEVER LEAVE A DOG IN THE CAR EVEN FOR A COUPLE OF MINUTES ON A WARM DAY, the dogs body temperature can elevate within minutes.

Overheating during exercise is a common cause of heat stroke but just stilling still outside can trigger it. . Another less documented cause of heat stroke is being exposed to the hair dryer for an extended period of time.


What are the symptoms?

The main symptom is excessive panting but other symptoms can include

  • Drooling

  • Elevated breathing rates

  • Reddened gums

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • Dullness

  • Lethargy

  • Collapse

  • Un-coordination

  • Seizures

  • Loss of consciousness.


Heat stroke can lead to very serious conditions such as swelling of the brain, kidney failure, intestinal bleeding and abnormal clotting.


What to do

If you think your dog is suffering from heat stroke call your vet immediately.

Move your dog to a shaded, cool area.

Place a damp cool towel over your dog and direct a cool fan onto them. DON'T use an ice bath.

Travel to your vets with the windows down and air conditioning on.

Give you dog access to cool water and you can place a cool damp towel over your dog in the car.


There have been cases where dogs have passed away in as little as 15 minutes from the onset of heat stroke. If left untreated in sever cases recovery is almost non existent.


On arrival at your vets your dog will likely be started on intravenous fluids, bloods taken to check organ function and appropriate medication started.



Prevention

Always be aware of the outdoor temperatures, make sure your dog is in well ventilated areas and has access to shade and plenty of water.

During hot days avoid walking your dog in the midday sun, stick to early in the morning or later in the evening then the sun is lower in the sky. Avoid exercise completely if it's too hot.

When traveling in the car make sure your dog has good ventilation and never leave them unattended.

Use a harness on brachycephalic breeds as collars can put pressure on the neck further complicating breathing.

Never walk your dog on a hot surface, you should be able to place your hand comfortably for 7 seconds- tarmac and sand can get particularly hot and even cause burns to the dogs pads.

If you have a long haired/ thick coated breed consider getting it clipped for the summer.

Be aware that muzzles can restrict the dogs ability to pant which is needed to cool themselves.



Prognosis

The prognosis depends how hight the body temperature went to and how long the hyperthermia persisted. The dogs physical condition and health also has an impact. If the temperature did not get extremely high and treatment was initiated swiftly then many pets recover. Some pets can experience permanent organ damage or can pass away due to complications from the hyperthermia.

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