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Avoiding Heat Stroke - by Lexy Marcellus, (RVT) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brian Adam   
Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:21

The warmer weather's here and it’s great for taking dogs & cats outside for a little exercise in the sun!  While it's a good way to keep them healthy & happy, rising temperatures also increase the risk of heat stroke.

Heat stroke is the term commonly used for hyperthermia or elevated body temperature.  It is considered hyperthermic or abnormal when your pet’s body temperature is greater than 39.4⁰C (103 ⁰F).  Internal body temps greater than 41⁰C (106⁰F) without any previous signs of illness from your animals are most commonly associated with exposure to heat. The critical temperature in which your animal’s organs begin to fail and can result in death is 42.7⁰C (109⁰F).

The most common cause of heat stroke is leaving a dog in a car without proper ventilation.  In this situation, it only takes minutes for your dog’s body temperature rapidly (& dangerously) elevate!  It's important to remember that dogs cannot control their body temperature by sweating as humans do, as they only have a relatively small number of sweat glands located on their footpads.  Their primary way of regulating body heat is by panting.

Other common causes of heat stroke include: being left outside without access to shade or water on a hot day. Being exposed to a hair dryer for extended periods of time, and excessive or vigorous exercise during hot days will put them at risk.  This also holds true for excited or excessively exercised dogs - even if the temperature & humidity does not appear all that hot, to us (their humans/caregivers).  It's a good idea to keep them out of poorly ventilated environments.  If you don't KNOW what it's like inside their dog house, I urge to find out!

Brachycephalic breeds (flat faced dogs such as pugs, boxers, and bulldogs) that have restricted airways are at an even greater risk. In these breeds, clinical signs of heat stroke can occur when the outside temperature and humidity are only moderately elevated.  Other high-risk animals include: Dogs that are muzzled for any reason, since their ability to pant is restricted by the muzzle. 

NOTE: any infection causing fever (pyrexia) can lead to hyperthermia. Seizures or severe muscles spasms can also elevate the body temperature due to increase in muscular activity. 

Signs of heat stroke vary depending on the degree and time of the temperature elevation.  Panting and elevated temperatures are most common. The animal may be dull, weak, or wobbly, collapsed, convulsing, or in a coma.  Respiratory and heart rates are usually high, and breathing may be very noisy. Gums of the mouth may tacky and be bright red or blue (if not getting enough oxygen). Pulses may be weak. Vomiting and diarrhea may also occur.

Depending on the severity of the heat stroke, bleeding may be seen coming from the animal’s gums or skin, and also in the vomit or diarrhea. If your animal has underlying diseases, the heat stroke can cause further complications to the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs.

Consider "Hyperthermia" or heatstroke an immediate medical emergency.  First remove the animal out of the heat or sun right away. Then start to cool down your pet slowly, by placing cool wet rags, towels cloths all over your dog’s body especially the foot pads and head. Safe, controlled reduction of body temperatures is priority.  Rubbing alcohol may be applied to the footpads to dilate pores and increase perspiration.

**DO NOT use ice or very cold water! ** Extreme cold can cause the blood vessels to constrict, preventing the body’s core from cooling and actually causing the internal temperature to further rise.  Rectal temperature should be monitored, and treatment discontinued once the pet shows signs of recovery or the temperature has fallen to 39.4⁰C (103⁰F).

Here are my TOP ways of preventing heat stroke from ever happening:

  • NEVER leave your dog alone in the car on a warm day!  Even with Open Windows & moderately-warm temperatures, the inside of the car acts like an OVEN!  Temps can rise to dangerously high levels in a matter of minutes.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise on warm days. When outside, choose areas with shade.
  • Keep cool fresh water available at all times.
  • Monitor your brachycephalic dogs (pugs, boxers, bulldogs etc.) as they are more prone to heat stroke.

If caught early enough, some can fully recover.  Others suffer permanent organ damage and require lifelong treatment.  Sadly, many dogs do not survive. Prevention is important for keeping yourself & your animals safe during these hot summer months.  Your veterinary team has lots of great ways to keep to keep your pets COOL! cool  Lexy


Last Updated on Saturday, 30 June 2012 20:55

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