Saturday, July 7, 2012

Heat Stroke - How to Save Your Pet

Every year we see two or three cases of heat stroke, a totally preventable ailment and cause of death. These dog and cat owners just don’t think through the consequences of leaving their dog or cat in a car with a temperature reaching 130 – 150 degrees. Certainly, these same people wouldn’t put their pet in an oven with a temperature at 200 degrees F.

Heat stroke is an emergency and requires immediate treatment. Because dogs do not sweat (except to a minor degree through their foot pads), they do not tolerate high environmental temperatures as well as humans do.
Common situations that can set the stage for heat stroke in dogs include:
·         Being left in a car in hot weather
·         Exercising strenuously in hot, humid weather
·         Being a brachycephalic breed, like a Bulldog, Pug, or Pekingese
·         Suffering from a heart or lung disease that interferes with efficient breathing
·         Being muzzled while put under a hair dryer
·         Suffering from a high fever or seizures
·         Being confined on concrete or asphalt surfaces
·         Being confined without shade and fresh water in hot weather
·         Having a history of previous heat stroke

Heat stroke begins with heavy panting and difficulty breathing. The tongue and mucous membranes appear bright red. The saliva is thick and tenacious, and the dog often vomits. The rectal temperature rises to 104° to 110°F. The dog becomes progressively unsteady and passes bloody diarrhea. As shock sets in, the lips and mucous membranes turn gray. Collapse, seizures, coma, and death rapidly ensue.
First Aid and Treatment:
 You must bring your pet to a veterinarian if you suspect heat stroke. Time is of the essence. You can try putting ice packs under the arms and groin areas while preparing to take him or her to the veterinarian or emergency clinic, but professional help is needed.
You may also try rapid cooling by spraying the dog with a garden hose or immersing him in a tub of cool water (not ice water) for up to two minutes. Monitor his rectal temperature and continue the cooling process until the rectal temperature falls below 103°F (39°C). At this point, stop the cooling process and dry the dog. Further cooling may induce the opposite effect and shock.
Do not try treating your dog for heat stroke without veterinary supervision. It is difficult to manage heat stroke in the veterinary clinic. Just imaging trying to treat it with the untrained eye!
Other consequences of heat stroke include kidney failure, spontaneous bleeding, irregular heartbeat, and seizures. These complications can occur hours or days later.
Another complication associated with heat stroke is dehydration. For mild dehydration, if the dog is not vomiting you can give him an electrolyte solution by bottle or syringe into the cheek pouch. Balanced electrolyte solutions for treating dehydration in children, such as Ringer’s lactate with 5 percent dextrose in water or Pedialyte solution, are available at drugstores and are also suitable for dogs. Gatorade is another short-term substitute to help replace fluids. Administer the solution at a rate of 2 to 4 ml per pound of body weight per hour, depending on the severity of the dehydration (or as directed by your veterinarian).
For more severe dehydration, IV fluids and electrolyte replacement are necessary and that is another reason to get to a qualified veterinary clinic ASAP.
At The Hospital:
Once an affected dog reaches the hospital, the veterinary team will take appropriate steps to try to safely bring the dog’s core body temperature into a normal range and resolve the hyperthermia. Room temperature intravenous fluid and electrolyte therapy may be used at shock rates depending upon the dog’s clinical condition. Oxygen supplementation may be used as well, either through a mask, a cage or a nasal catheter. Activity will be restricted and normally the dog will not be fed until it is medically stable. There are no specific medications to “treat” heat stroke. However, there are medications to help manage many of the complications associated with of heat stroke, which your veterinarian can discuss with you. Patients should be closely monitored around the clock during the first day or two of the cooling down process.
The prognosis for dogs that have heat stroke are highly variable and can be good to guarded to grave, depending primarily upon how quickly the condition was caught and treated.

The Providence Veterinary Hospital Blog is a publication of Peter Herman, VMD, at the Providence Veterinary Hospital, 2400 Providence Ave. in Chester, PA. Contact Dr. Herman at 610-872-4000 or visit us at

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