Heat Stroke in Pets

Summer is upon us which means plenty of beaches, BBQs, the sunshine and hot weather! Unfortunately, this nice weather comes with a potential danger to our pets in the form of heat stroke! Dog’s don’t have sweat glands like humans, so the only way they have of cooling down is panting.

If hot enough this painting is often not enough to keep a dog cool leading to them overheating! Dogs that are very active can overwork themselves in hot and humid weather which can lead to a rise in their core body temperature and overheat. Leaving a dog in a hot car is another classic example of a situation that can lead to heat stroke. Depending on heat and humidity it can take less than 10 minutes for a dog to be affected! A pet should NEVER be left unattended in a hot car!

There are several signs you can look for at home to help determine if your dog is suffering from heat stroke. Excessive panting is an early sign, but often owners may not realize what is happening until their pet collapses! Overheating and damage various different organs including the brain which can lead to stumbling, blindness and seizures. These are signs of severe heat stroke and prognosis is guarded so prompt treatment is critical in these cases.

Any time you see these signs of heat stroke you should bring your pet to the vet right away. There are several things you can do at home to start treatment as soon as possible. Place your dog in a cool, shaded area, preferably inside with air conditioning or if outside where there is a breeze. Use cold water from a hose to cool them down and use a fan to create a cool breeze. Ice packs wrapped in towels (we don’t want them directly on the skin!) work great as well. One thing to AVOID though is wrapping your pet in wet towels as this can insulate and trap heat in!

Once at a vet clinic there are several additional measures we can take. We’ll put a heat stroke victim on IV fluids which help cool the body down. Supplemental oxygen and gastro protectants may be needed as well in cases of severe heat stroke. We may perform some bloodwork to check on electrolyte imbalances as well as monitor blood sugars as often heat stroke victims will become hypoglycemic.

Heat stroke is something that with a few precautions is easily avoidable. Avoid keeping your dog in your car and if they are in the car with you either have the windows open or the a/c on. Try not to exercise your dog in the heat of the day but instead go out in the morning or evening when the temperature is cooler. Last but not least, know the signs of early heat stroke so you can treat right away!

Written by Dr. David Baker