It is summer and school is out, the weather warms up and we have more opportunities to interact with our pets. Because it gets hot we need to concern ourselves with heatstroke. Heatstroke occurs when normal body mechanisms cannot keep the body’s temperature in a safe range. Animals cannot sweat and get overheated easily. A dog with moderate heatstroke (body temperature from 104º to 106ºF) can recover within an hour if given prompt first aid and veterinary care (normal body temperature is 100-102.5°F). Severe heatstroke (body temperature over 106ºF) can be deadly and immediate veterinary assistance is needed.

A dog suffering from heatstroke will display several signs- rapid panting, bright red tongue, red or pale gums, thick, sticky saliva, weakness, dizziness, vomiting – sometimes with blood, diarrhea, shock, and coma.

WHAT TO DO:
Remove the dog from the hot area immediately. Prior to vet transport, lower his temperature by wetting him thoroughly with cool water, then increase air movement around him with a fan. CAUTION: Using very cold water can actually be counterproductive. Cooling too quickly and especially allowing his body temperature to become too low can cause other life-threatening medical conditions. The rectal temperature should be checked every 5 minutes. Once the body temperature is 103ºF, the cooling measures should be stopped and the dog should be dried thoroughly and covered so he does not continue to lose heat. Even if the dog appears to be recovering, take him to your veterinarian as soon as possible. He should still be examined since he may be dehydrated or have other complications.

Allow free access to water or a children’s rehydrating solution (Pedialyte) if the dog can drink on his own. Do not try to force-feed cold water; the dog may inhale it or choke.

Once at our office, the dog’s body temperature will be lowered to a safe range (if you have not already) and the temperature continuously monitored. Intravenous fluid therapy will be started and possibly oxygen. The dog is monitored for shock, respiratory distress, kidney failure, heart abnormalities, and other complications, and treated accordingly. Blood samples may be taken before and during the treatment. The clotting time of the blood will be monitored, since clotting problems are a common complication.

Dogs with moderate heatstroke often recover without complicating health problems. Severe heatstroke can cause organ damage that might need ongoing care such as a special diet prescribed by your veterinarian. Dogs who suffer from heatstroke once increase their risk for getting it again and steps must be taken to prevent it on hot, humid days.

Any pet that cannot cool himself off is at risk for heatstroke. Following these guidelines can help prevent serious problems:
Keep pets with predisposing conditions like heart disease, obesity, older age, or breathing problems cool and in the shade. Even normal activity for these pets can be harmful. Provide access to water at all times. Do not leave your pet in a hot parked car even if you’re in the shade or will only be gone a short time. The temperature inside a parked car can quickly reach up to 140 degrees. Make sure outside dogs have access to shade. On a hot day, restrict exercise and don’t take your dog jogging with you. Too much exercise when the weather is very hot can be dangerous. Do not muzzle your dog. Avoid places like the beach and especially concrete or asphalt areas where heat is reflected and there is no access to shade. Wetting down your dog with cool water or allowing him to swim can help maintain a normal body temperature. Move your dog to a cool area of the house. Air conditioning is one of the best ways to keep a dog cool, but is not always dependable. To provide a cooler environment, freeze water in soda bottles, or place ice and a small amount of water in several reseal-able food storage bags, then wrap them in a towel or tube sock and place them on the floor for the dog to lay on. Never ever leave a pet in the car – On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to between 100 and 120 degrees in just minutes, and on a 90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach as high as 160 degrees in less than 10 minutes.