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Heat Stroke in Dogs
What is heat stroke?
Heat stroke is a term used for elevated body temperature (hyperthermia). Generally, if a pet's temperature exceeds 103°F (39.4°C), it is considered abnormal and may be cause for concern. When we see a dog or cat whose temperature is at or above 106°F (41°C) with no previous signs of illness, we most often associate this with heat stroke. The critical temperature where multiple organ failure and impending death occurs is around 107°F to 109°F (41.2°C to 42.7°C).
What causes heat stroke?
The most common cause of heat stroke is leaving a dog in a cwithout proper ventilation – proper ventilation in this case means AIR CONDITIONING. In this situation your dog’s temperature can elevate very quickly, often within minutes.
"A Dog’s primary way of regulating body temperature is by panting."
Dogs can’t regulate their body temperature by sweating like people do - they only have a small number of sweat glands located in their feet. Their primary way of controlling body temperature is by panting. Some other common causes of heat stroke include being left in a yard without access to shade or water on a hot day, being under a hair dryer for an extended period of time and exercising your dog too hard in the heat. Excited or excessively exercised dogs are sometimes at risk even if the environmental temperature and humidity doesn’t seem hot - particularly if they are kept in a poorly ventilated environment such as a dog house. Certain breeds of dog are at increased risk as well. Brachycephalic dogs (pugs, boxers, bulldogs and other flat faced breeds), can get heat stroke even in moderately elevated temperatures. Muzzled dogs are also at increased risk when it comes to heat stroke as they aren’t able to pant with the muzzle on.
What is the treatment for heat stroke?
Heat stroke is considered an EMERGENCY. The number one priority in this situation is to safely reduce the body temperature. This can be accomplished by pouring cool (NOT COLD), water over the dog’s head, abdomen, armpits, groin and paws. Cool wet cloths can also be applied to those areas. Rubbing alcohol wiped on the footpads dilates the pores - this increases perspiration. Ice placed around the mouth and anus may also help. Intravenous fluids and oxygen therapy are also commonly used to treat heat stroke.
The dog’s temperature is constantly monitored – treatment is continued until the pet shows signs of recovery or the temperature has decreased to 103ºF (39.4ºC).
What is the prognosis for heat stroke?
" Prognosis depends on how high the dog’s temperature is, how long the heat stroke has persisted
and the pet’s health prior to developing it."
Most pets will recover quickly as long as their temperature didn’t become too high and they are treated immediately. Some pets may have permanent organ damage or may die at a later date from complications secondary to the heat stroke. It is important to remember that pets who have had heat stroke are at increased risk to develop it again as their thermoregulatory center has been damaged.
Dr. Helen Foster is the owner and veterinarian at Bickford Park Animal Hospital (bickfordvet.com).