Heatstroke in Pets – Symptoms and Prevention

heatstroke in dogs

During the warmer months of the year, dogs and cats maybe susceptible to heat stroke, certain breeds being especially vulnerable.

Heatstroke occurs when a dog or cat’s internal regulatory mechanism cannot maintain a normal core temperature of 101o to 102o Fahrenheit (38.3to38.8o Celsius)

When the animal’s core temperature rises above one 105o F (40.5o C) all body systems begin failing rapidly. This situation is truly an emergency and requires a pet owner’s quick intervention to expedite cooling and prevent permanent organ damage or death.

Heatstroke can occur in all pets with brachycephalic or Pug nosed breeds and long-haired animals being especially vulnerable. Obese animals are also more prone to overheating.

High humidity during the early warmer months of the year allows heat to transfer through the skin more easily.

Leaving a pet in an unventilated automobile is a very common cause of heatstroke. The temperature inside a closed car will reach 102o F in ten minutes on a beautiful 85o F eighty five degree day. In thirty minutes the car will reach 120o F and more inside.

An animal suffering from heat stroke may be standing listless or lying on its side, unresponsive, it will be hyperventilating or very rapidly panting and hectic ropey saliva hanging from the tongue and mouth.

The gum tissue and lips will however be tacky and dry. The gum color will be blood red, early in the heatstroke and turn gray-blue as shock sets in.

Seizures occur as the brain overheats and cascades of physiological breakdowns occur. If it is possible to take a rectal temperature, it may read 106o F or higher. The pet must be cooled quickly and taken to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

It would seem logical that icy cold water would be the best choice to cool the pet rapidly, but it will actually cause capillaries at the surface of the skin to close. The circulation is already compromised during heatstroke and cooler blood will not return to the core as quickly in very cold water was used. Instead room temperature water is more effective.

Concentrate on the trunk and the head, do not try to force an animal in heatstroke to drink water, it will only aspirating into the lungs while panting cause vomiting, which leads to further electrolyte loss.

Take a rectal temperature often and stop cooling when the thermometer reads 103o F, it will continue to drop.

Because the bodies regulating mechanisms are not functioning properly, it is very easy to cause hypothermia, a sub normal core temperature, if cooling is continued for too long.

Towel the excess water from the coat and allow the pet to air dry. Get the pet to the vet. Intravenous fluid therapy and steps to control shock should be started immediately.

Other treatments that may be necessary, will depend on the presenting clinical signs, but may include oxygen therapy to improve tissue perfusion of vital organs, antibiotics to prevent sepsis and electrolyte replacement.

It’s always better to prevent heatstroke in the first place. Always provide fresh water and shade and moving air if possible to an outdoor pet.

Remember that working breeds and enthusiastic dogs will go until they drop. Keep this in mind if jogging with your dog or throwing the frisbee on warm and humid day.

Never leave an animal living unventilated vehicle for any period of time, partially rolling down the windows of the car will not provide enough ventilation, so it may be best to leave the pet at home during warm seasons of the year.