Heat stroke develops when normal body mechanisms are unable to keep the body’s temperature within the appropriate range. Animals can overheat very easily as they are unable to sweat like humans and they do not have very efficient cooling mechanisms. Normal temperature for a dog varies from 37.7°C – 39°C. It will take a dog with moderate heatstroke (body temperature 40°C – 41°C) stroke approximately one to two hours to recover if adequate first aid and prompt veterinary care is provided. Severe heatstroke occurs when the body temperature exceeds 41°C and can be fatal if immediate veterinary attention is not sought. It is also important to note that heatstroke can be fatal despite the best efforts of the both the owner and veterinary team.
Symptoms of heatstroke
- Rapid panting
- Bright red tongue
- Red/pale gums
- Thick, sticky saliva
First aid treatment
1. Remove the dog from the hot area immediately
2. Place cool damp towels on your dog, if the dog is very small use lukewarm water only. Do not use water that is too cold as it important to cool the dog gradually, as rapid cooling can cause other medical problems.
3. Contact your veterinary practice and let them know that you are on your way so that they can prepare for your arrival.
4. If you have a thermometer, take your dog’s rectal temperature and it should be checked every 5 minutes during the cooling process. Once their temperature is less than 39.5°C stop the cooling process and thoroughly dry your dog.
5. It is essential that your dog is assessed even if he appears to have made a full recovery as they may have other complications including dehydration that will need to be corrected.
Your vet will fully assess your dog and continue the cooling process if is necessary. It may be advised that your dog has intravenous fluids therapy and oxygen therapy. Your dog may also have a blood sample taken to assess kidney, liver and clotting functions. In addition your dog will be monitored for signs of shock, respiratory distress and any other complications that may develop secondary to the heatstroke.
Dogs with moderate heatstroke can make a full recovery without any long term complications. The prognosis for severe heatstroke is guarded as it can cause organ damage that may require on going treatment.
Please note that a dog that has experienced heat stroke is at higher risk of suffering from heatstroke in the future.
Prevention of heatstroke
1. Do not leave your pet in the car during warm periods, the temperature in a parked car can reach extreme levels very quickly.
2. Make sure that your pet always has access to shade.
3. Provide access to fresh water at all times.
4. Restrict exercise on hot days and do not take your pet exercising with you.
5. Muzzles should not be worn in hot conditions as they stop your pet from panting, which is a heat loss mechanism for them. It is your responsibility to control your pets behaviour and adequate measures must be put in place to ensure safety at all times if they normally do wear a muzzle.
6. Wetting your dog intermittently can help to keep them cool. Do not use very cold water, especially in small animals.
All dogs should be considered high risk of heatstroke in hot conditions but more care should be taken with certain breeds including brachycephalic (short faced dogs), obese and those with heart conditions.