Heat Stroke

After a long cold winter, it feels like those hot summer days will never come, but thankfully they are on their way! We love the summer heat, but let’s not forget how easy it is for our pets to overheat! Heat stroke can be a serious and even life-threatening condition that occurs as a result of the body’s core temperature rising above 40 degrees C. Heat stroke often occurs when pets are left with inadequate ventilation in hot cars, though it can also occur when animals are left outside in hot, humid conditions without shade, when animals are exercised in hot and humid weather or even left in cars on relatively cool days. Recent studies show that temperatures in cars even on cool days can be 20 degrees warmer than outside and cracking the window doesn’t make much difference. We often see more cases of heat stroke in the early summer before our pets acclimate to the warmer temperatures.

Don’t forget, dogs and cats are more at risk for heat stroke than we are- partly due to their fur coats, but also because they are unable to sweat like we are to help bring down their temperatures! Certain pets are more at risk of developing heat stroke: pediatric and geriatric pets, animals with airway disease (cats with asthma), overweight animals, dark coloured dogs and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs, Boston terriers etc.

Symptoms that may indicate that your dog has heat stroke include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness/collapsing
  • Changes to the colour of the gums to blue/purple or bright red in colour altered mental state
  • Seizures
  • Strokes
  • Brain swelling

What should you do if your pet has these symptoms?
Immediately remove your pet from the environment where the hyperthermia occurred! Begin cooling with cool, wet towels being careful to not over cool. Don’t use ice! If you can take a rectal temperature, please do so and record it. Then, get your pet to his or her veterinarian immediately! Heat stroke can affect almost every organ system in the body. Simply lowering the body temperature may not be enough to prevent a life-threatening consequence. If your home tends to get hot in the summer and lacks good airflow, a fan can help!

Let’s all enjoy our beautiful Maritime summer, but keep in mind that our pets overheat easier than we do!

Written by: Dr. Susan Brown, DVM