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Heat Stroke in Dogs

Dogs become overheated more easily than people.

Heat stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition in dogs. It's critical that dog-owners be aware of the risk factors, ways to decrease the risk, signs that a dog is experiencing the condition, and what to do.

What Is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke, or hyperthermia, is an increased body temperature that occurs as a result of environmental conditions. A suddenly occurring body temperature over 106 degrees F, when the dog had no signs of illness prior to the fever, indicates probable heat stroke.

Heat stroke can lead to organ failure, brain damage, and death.

Dogs have a limited ability to cool themselves down. They only have sweat glands in their paws, and panting is their primary method of letting off heat. Therefore, it's easy for them to become overheated when they don't have water, air flow, and shade.

Predisposing Factors for Heat Stroke in Dogs

Heat stroke can happen to any dog, at any age, if they are exposed to high temperatures without the ability to cool themselves off.

Some dogs are more susceptible to suffering heat stroke more easily, including:

  • Brachycephalic dogs, or those with flatter faces
  • Very old and very young dogs
  • Dogs with other underlying conditions
  • Dogs that are muzzled, decreasing their ability to pant
  • Overweight dogs

Causes of Heat Stroke in Dogs

The most common cause of heat stroke in dogs is being left in a car without good ventilation.

Other common causes include:

  • Vigorous exercise in hot weather
  • Being left outside without shade or a good water supply
  • Being left too long in front of a hair dryer without a means to get away from it

Signs of Heat Stroke in Dogs

A dog suffering from heat stroke may exhibit the following signs:

  • Excessive panting
  • Dry gums
  • Pale or brown gums
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Seizure
  • Rough breathing sounds, like a choo choo
  • Coma

If you believe your dog may have heat stroke, get to a vet right away. Additionally, use some of the techniques in the next section to help lower your dog's temperature.

Treatment of Heat Stroke in Dogs

During a heat stroke event, a dog's temperature needs to be brought down in a controlled manner.

Use cool water to achieve this, not cold water or ice, which may constrict blood vessels near the skin's surface and decrease heat exchange.

Either pour cool water over the dog's paws, head, armpits, and stomach or use cool washcloths, changed often as they heat up. Keep in mind the following:

  • Do not cover dogs in wet towels as those towels heat up and insulate the heat in. Use small clothes and change them often.
  • Do not submerge the dog in water, especially if they are unresponsive, because they may get water in their lungs.
  • If you use a hose, make sure the water coming out is cool and not heated by the sun.
  • If the dog is conscious, let them drink cool water, not cold water.

Place the dog near a cool fan or other well-ventilated area to help cool the skin.

At the veterinary hospital, further treatment will begin, including IV fluids, oxygen therapy, and possibly sedation. Blood work will also be performed to determine the extent of any organ dysfunction and monitor its response to treatment.

The dog's internal temperature should be continuously monitored and treatment stopped when it gets to 103 degrees F. If it isn't, the dog could become too cold and suffer hypothermia.

Response to treatment depends on how much organ damage was done, which generally depends on how long the dog's temperature was high before the condition was discovered and how high the temperature got.

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