Heat stroke occurs when normal body cooling mechanisms fail to keep the body temperature in the normal range for that species. Normal body temperature ranges from 100 to 102.5 degrees Farenheight for dogs and cats. Panting, the main method of cooling for dogs and cats, releases heat from the body by evaporation of water through the respiratory tract. Normally a very effective method of cooling, the effectiveness of panting is greatly affected by periods of high heat and high humidity. Excessive body heat can also be lost to the air through the animal’s skin.
Those Most at Risk
Some animals are more at risk for heat stroke. Animals less than 6 months of age and over 7 years of age, those with short noses such as Pugs, Boxers, and Persians, overweight animals, and animals with pre-existing illness or health conditions are at a greater risk than young, healthy pets.
Signs of Heat Stroke
Early signs of heat stroke include a rectal temperature greater than 104 degrees Farenheight and possibly as high as 110 degrees, excessive panting, noisy breathing, bright red tongue, gums and conjunctiva, inner eyelid, and weakness. Later signs are collapse, shock, coma, and possibly death. A body temperature greater than 104 degrees requires immediate first aid and veterinary assistance.
If you think your dog or cat is overheated, immediately move him to a cooler environment, preferentially inside an air-conditioned house. Begin to lower his body temperature by wetting him thoroughly with lukewarm — NOT cold — water and increase air circulation around him with a fan. As soon as possible, transport your pet to your veterinarian. If you are able, check his temperature rectally every 5 minutes. When the body temperature reaches 103 degrees, stop the cooling measures, dry the animal, and cover with a light blanket. Often the body’s “thermostat” is damaged by the heat and your pet will not be able to keep their body temperature normalized. If your pet is able to swallow, offer water or an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte or Gatoraide to drink.
See Your Veterinarian
Have your pet evaluated by a veterinarian even if he seems to be okay. Heat exposure can cause several problems, such as clotting abnormalities, muscle breakdown, or organ failure that might not be noticed immediately.
Your veterinarian will evaluate your pet and continue to monitor his body temperature. Intravenous fluids and oxygen may be needed to counteract shock, respiratory distress, kidney or liver failure, heart abnormalities, or other complications. Additional treatments or medications may be needed depending on the severity of the injuries to the body. Your pet may need to be hospitalized to allow continuing care. Blood samples to evaluate dehydration, organ function, and clotting times may be needed during and after treatment.
Prevention is Best!
Heat stroke can cause permanent damage to your pet. Preventing heat stroke is much easier than treating it. Minimize your pet’s activity on hot, humid days. Provide plenty of fresh water, shade and, if possible, moving air. Never leave your pet in a parked car (even with the windows down) if the air temperature is above 65 degrees. Monitor your pet closely during hot weather and take appropriate action at the first signs of distress.
Have a happy and cool summer!
From the Pet Tails Magazine archives; this article was written by Natalie Carpenter, DVM.