Heat Stroke (Hyperthermia) in Dogs
Dogs cannot regulate their temperature by sweating, like humans. Instead, dogs pant to cool their body. Unfortunately, this isn’t always an effective way to avoid overheating. If the surrounding air temperature is too high or the dog is stressed, this system is not effective. Elevation of a dog’s body temperature over 104°F can lead to heat stroke.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Dogs
Early signs of heat stroke may be subtle, and it’s important to know what’s normal for your dog. If gone untreated, heat stroke may lead to collapse or even death.
Signs to look out for include:
- Becoming anxious, barking, whining or trembling
- Faster and heavier panting than normal
- Seeking shade or reluctance to move
- Excessive drooling or increased thirst
- Increased heart rate
- Elevated rectal temperature, over 104°F
- Deep red or purple gums that feel dry when touched
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Mental dullness or glassy eyes
- Weakness or wobbling
- Difficulty breathing and collapse
- Loss of consciousness
Causes of Heat Stroke
A dog’s normal body temperature is 100.1 to 102.5°F. Temperatures over 103°F should raise concerns for a potential problem.
One of the most common causes of heat stroke in dogs is being trapped in a hot, enclosed space. Never leave your dog in a car or poorly ventilated kennel during warm weather. A vehicle, even with the windows cracked, can increase in temperature by 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes!
Dogs can also suffer from heat stroke if they are in the sun for too long without shade, or if they are exercised in warm weather without water and rest periods. Proper training and conditioning time should be allowed before taking your dog on long hikes or other strenuous activities.
Short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds are particularly susceptible to heat stroke. The flattening and shortening of the facial bones and upper airway cause increased airway resistance. This may lead to severe respiratory problems during times of heat stress.
What can you do to help your dog?
If your dog shows signs of heat stroke, it’s important to act quickly!
- Move your dog to a cool, quiet area
- Offer fresh water to drink. Alternatively, a small syringe can be used to put drops of water on the dog’s tongue. Don’t force the dog to drink a large volume of water or force a syringe into its mouth.
- Actively cool the dog by wetting her fur and paws, but don’t submerge her head in water.
- Cold wet towels can be placed on the stomach, armpits, and paw pads. Refresh them frequently.
- Take the dog’s rectal temperature every five minutes, if it’s safe to do so, until the temperature is at or below 102.5°F.
- Mild heat stroke may not require further treatment, but you should always consult your veterinarian for advice.
- If your dog is in distress or collapsed, he must be taken to the veterinary clinic right away.
- Important: never give anti-inflammatory or any other medication to your dog without consulting your veterinarian.
Treatment of Heat Stroke in Dogs
- In severe cases of heat stroke, rapid veterinary treatment is required - every minute counts!
- Call the vet to alert them that you’re on the way.
- On the way to the clinic, continue to cool your dog, if possible. Use a cold wet towel on her body and offer plenty of fresh cold water to drink.
At the veterinary clinic, whole-body cooling remains the focus of heat stroke treatment. Intravenous fluid therapy is often used to treat shock and electrolyte imbalances. Blood tests may be used to evaluate internal organ function. Critical patients may require oxygen support or medications.
Some dogs may need to stay in intensive care for several days for close monitoring and stabilization.
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