Heat Stroke 101

“Hot town, summer in the city…” Remember that ol’ classic by The Lovin’ Spoonful? It IS summer and many locations are experiencing record-setting heat.

It’s important to remember that dogs can suffer from the aliments of extreme weather, including having a heat stroke.

Dogs can’t sweat like we can and rely on panting and the resulting evaporation as the most important mechanism for dissipating their body heat. Heat stroke or hyperthermia is a life-threatening emergency. When core body temperatures are 104 degrees F. or higher this could be considered heat stroke if this elevated body temperature doesn’t include infectious causes.

There can be predisposing factors leading to heat stroke to include both exogenous and endogenous causes. Exogenous causes might include: confinement or poor ventilation such as in an enclosed vehicle, increased humidity, lack of adequate water supply, your dog not being acclimatized to hotter temperatures, and some medications that your pet may be on. Endogenous causes include: brachiocephalic breeds (those with short noses and “scrunched in” faces like bulldogs, Boston Terriers, etc.), overweight and obese dogs, pre-existing heart disease, age, neuromuscular disease, and of course, long hair coats and dark hair color.

Body systems affected by hyperthermia include: the nervous system, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, the liver and kidneys, the immune system, and the musculoskeletal system. You can see that the entire body can be affected, thus making early treatment and multi-modal treatment a must.

Some of the symptoms you may observe would include excessive panting, drooling, gum color that may appear more reddened than normal, very increased heart rate, respiratory distress, seizures, muscle tremors, lack of balance, bloody stools, changes in mental status, what appears to be bruising to the skin, coma, and/or respiratory or cardiac arrest.

If you think your dog may be suffering from hyperthermia you should contact your veterinarian right away, but also it is imperative that you initiate treatment at home as well. This means cooling your dog down by spraying with room temperature water before transportation. Evaporation may be enhanced by using fans, driving with the windows down and/or placing the dog in front of the air conditioning vent. Studies have shown that the overall mortality rate is about 50 percent in dogs presenting with heat stroke, but survival was 100% in those dogs cooled down by their owners before veterinary intervention and seen within less than 90 minutes of initial symptoms.

So make sure your dog doesn’t suffer from this life-threatening condition by providing adequate shade and plenty of water, not encouraging overexertion, and not confining your pet to non-ventilated areas when temperatures and/or humidity are excessive. We can all enjoy the Dog Days of Summer (this year or next) safely, and together celebrate the bonds we have with our pets.

-Photo Credit: From flickr by Button132012

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