Dogs | July 7, 2017

Treating Heat Stroke in Dogs

Val Culpin
By: Val Culpin
Heat Stroke in Dogs

With summer here in full force, outdoor activity is at a high for families. It’s great to be able to include the family dog, but beware the onset of heat stroke if the weather is particularly hot or humid.

Heat stroke occurs when the cooling mechanisms of the body cannot keep up with excessive external heat, and body temperatures of 106° F (41° C) or higher are reached. Left untreated, serious cases can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Heat stroke occurs most commonly in dogs (as opposed to cats). It can affect any breed, but is more frequent in long-haired dogs and short-nosed, flat-faced dogs, also known as brachycephalic breeds. It can occur at any age but tends to affect young dogs more than old dogs. Obesity, insufficient water intake, and a thick hair coat are also risk factors.

Onset of heat stroke can happen in several ways. Dogs left in unventilated closed rooms or vehicles are very susceptible. Dogs can also suffer heat stroke simply from over-exerting themselves on a warm day.

Watch for these symptoms:

  • Panting
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive drooling
  • Increased body temperature – above 103° F (39° C)
  • Reddened gums and moist tissues of the body
  • Production of only small amounts of urine or no urine
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Irregular heart beats
  • Shock
  • Stoppage of the heart and breathing
  • Fluid build-up in the lungs; sudden breathing distress
  • Changes in mental status
  • Seizures
  • Muscle tremors
  • Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken gait or movement
  • Unconsciousness, in which the dog cannot be stimulated to be awakened

Early recognition of the symptoms of heat stroke is important for recovery. If your dog’s increased body temperature can be linked to environmental temperature, such as weather, an enclosed room, or exercise, the first thing to do is lower the body temperature.

What NOT to do

First of all, if you are using water to lower the body temperature, it’s very important NOT to use ice or very cold water. This can cause the blood vessels near the surface of the body to constrict and may slow down the rate of heat dissipation. Shivering is also undesirable, since it is the body’s mechanism to create heat. A gradual lowering of the body temperature is best and least dangerous. Offer cool, not cold, water and allow him to drink freely.  Do not force your dog to drink.

Don’t take your dog out during the hottest part of the day, or leave him in places which may become too hot for him, such as enclosed spaces with no ventilation, a sunny yard with no shade to take shelter, and especially not in a closed vehicle.

Treating heat stroke

External cooling techniques can include spraying the dog down with cool water or immersing his whole body in cool water. You can try wrapping him in cool, wet towels, and/or cooling your pup with a fan. You should stop cooling procedures when the body temperature reaches 103° F (using a rectal thermometer) to avoid dropping below normal body temperature. Once you have lowered the body temperature, take your dog to your veterinarian immediately.

Dogs who have experienced heat stroke are more prone to suffering it again, so be ultra sensitive to the signs of heat stroke moving forward, and be prepared to respond quickly if required.

Lastly, always have plenty of fresh cool water available for your best buddy. A little common sense is all that is needed to prevent heat stroke.