Heat Stroke in Dogs
By Lyn Lewis, D.V.M.
Over last few weeks we had our first few days of really hot weather, and of course I saw my first heat stroke victim this season. This was a 12 year old dog that routinely goes hiking with the owner. Within a half hour of starting the trail the dog collapsed and could not walk. Heat stroke can occur when our pet’s temperature reaches above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the body’s immune system begins to go haywire and their organs and blood begin to malfunction. Death can quickly occur without lowering their temperature and dealing with any other problems that can arise.
Typically I see animals with heat stroke from two common scenarios. One, the animals were left in the car, even with the windows cracked. Secondly, animals that are kept outside without adequate shade or water. Both of these situations are very common. Some other risk factors include brachycephalic breeds; these are dogs that have short noses such as bulldogs, pugs, and boston terriers. Dogs that are very young (under 6 months) and dogs that are seniors (over 7 years) are also much more likely to develop heat stroke. Finally, dogs that are overweight or have a history of heart disease are also at high risk.
If you find your animal in a hot environment and they are not acting normal they may be having a heat stroke. Heat stroke victims typically are panting vigorously and are bright red in their mouths, ears, and around the eyes due to the very high blood pressure. They can have extreme weakness or be lying down and unable to stand up. Typically I see a lot of watery vomiting and diarrhea that may or may not have blood in it. As things begin to get worse you may notice small areas of bleeding under the skin in the mouth, ears and the whites of the eyes. Of course they will also feel very warm to the touch. If your pet is exhibiting any of these signs quickly take them to your veterinarian.
Once presented to your veterinarian they may want to do a few simple tests to determine how far the problem has gone. Initially the temperature is determined and we try to place a catheter so we can flush cold fluids into the body. Your vet may also want to do some bloodwork to check for electrolyte imbalances and organ dysfunction. Probably one of the most important tests is to check blood clotting times. There is a condition called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation or D.I.C. that can be triggered by high temperatures. Because of this the body cannot clot the blood and they begin bruising very easily, they can bleed out of any orifice, and you can see small bloody marks under the skin. D.I.C. can be very hard to treat and the patient must be presented early to help with the problem.
After we get a catheter going we use cooler fluids to help bring down the temperature of our pets; but this can lead to another problem, hypothermia. Without constant monitoring the temperature can lower to the low nineties so close monitoring is very important. Once we get bloodwork results back we can also determine a treatment plan for your pet. Regardless, any animal with a temperature above 105 we typically hospitalize because they need careful monitoring.
There are a few things we can do at home to prevent and help in the treatment of heat stroke. This one is easy; first keep your pet out of parked cars and uncovered pens in the direct sunlight. Next, keep lots of fresh water available. In case your animal feels warm to the touch you can also dip their feet in rubbing alcohol. The rubbing alcohol really helps in bringing down the temperature. Quickly bring your pet into your local veterinary office and tell the front staff you have an emergency. With heat stroke, time really matters and the quicker the temperature is safely dropped the less harm that will be done. Have a great summer and remember to keep your pet safe.