Heat stroke is a condition where the body temperature is significantly higher (hyperthermia) than average body temperature. We all think of dogs and cats that are left in unattended vehicles, but this also occurs in numerous other conditions we should all be aware of. Environmental temperature is the obvious number one player, but another cause of heat stroke that we don’t commonly think of is humidity. When people get overheated they sweat which evaporates and cools our body, dogs and cats cannot do this like we do. Dogs and cats do sweat, but their sweat glands are primarily on their paws, of which they have a very small number.
Dogs primarily bring their body temperature down by panting, but when their body temperature rises quickly they cannot cool down quick enough, leading to heat exhaustion. Cats on the other hand, will first start to excessively bathe themselves to obtain the same mechanism of cooling that humans use. As they bathe the moisture left behind will begin to evaporate and cool their body, but if occurring too quickly they cannot keep up with the rising body temperature and begin to overheat. Both of these initial mechanisms used by our pets also does something that compounds the onset of heat stroke, dehydration. Heat stroke is a serious, life threating, condition that can easily be avoided.
Identifying signs of heat stroke:
1. Excessive panting or drooling
2. Elevated body temperature (fever)
3. Difficulty breathing
4. Elevated heart rate
5. Weakness (may even be mild at onset), lethargy, stupor, or collapse
6. Incoordination or seizures
7. Vomiting and/diarrhea (may be bloody)
Here are steps you can take to prevent your loved one from experiencing this:
1. NEVER leave your pet in a parked car, temperatures can become dangerous in minutes!
2. Take your pet on walks during the cool hours of the day, early mornings or late evenings.
3. While your pet is outside make sure they have access to shade and water.
What should you do if your pet has become over heated? Your pet should be taken to a veterinary hospital immediately. Initiate cooling but do so quickly so as not to let attempts to cool the patient prolong your arrival to the hospital.
1. Apply cold water to the patient with a hose, other water source or presoaked cool towels. Don’t completely soak patients with thick hair coats and do not submerge patient in a cool bath.
2. Drive with windows down or air conditioner on.
3. Make sure that water is available if patient is willing to drink.
Your pet should be taken to a veterinarian to be evaluated immediately if heat stroke occurs. The cardiopulmonary system, nervous system, gastrointestinal systemic, renal system and hematologic system are all at risk of damage based on the degree of heatstroke. At minimum, bloodwork and fluid resuscitation should be performed, and possibly additional diagnostic tests, hospitalization and treatment depending on the degree of injury.
Rather than having to see your pet to treat heat stroke, hopefully this article will raise awareness and will help keep your pets happy and safe during these hot summer months!