Heat stroke is an emergency and requires immediate treatment. Because dogs do not sweat (except to a minor degree through their foot pads), they do not tolerate high environmental temperatures as well as humans do. Dogs depend upon panting to exchange warm air for cool air. But when air temperature is close to body temperature, cooling by panting is not an efficient process.
Common situations that can set the stage for heat stroke in dogs include:
- Being left in a car in hot weather
- Exercising strenuously in hot,humid weather
- Being a brachycephalic breed, especially a Bulldog,Pug,or Pekingese
- Suffering from a heart or lung disease that interferes with efficient breathing
- Being muzzled while put under a hair dryer
- Suffering from a high fever or seizures
- Being confined on concrete or asphalt surfaces
- Being confined without shade and fresh water in hot weather
- Having a history of heat stroke
Heat stroke begins with heavy panting and difficulty breathing. The tongue and mucous membranes appear bright red. The saliva is thick and tenacious, and the dog often vomits. The rectal temperature rises to 104° to 110°F (40° to 43.3°C). The dog becomes progressively unsteady and passes bloody diarrhea. As shock sets in, the lips and mucous membranes turn gray. Collapse, seizures, coma, and death rapidly ensue.
Treatment: Emergency measures to cool the dog must begin at once. Move the dog out of the source of heat, preferably into an air-conditioned building. Take his rectal temperature every 10 minutes. Mild cases may be resolved by moving the dog into a cool environment. If the rectal temperature is above 104°F, begin rapid cooling by spraying the dog with a garden hose or immersing him in a tub of cool water (not ice water) for up to two minutes. Alternatively, place the wet dog in front of an electric fan. Cool packs applied to the groin area may be helpful, as well as wiping his paws off with cool water. Monitor his rectal temperature and continue the cooling process until the rectal temperature falls below 103°F (39°C). At this point, stop the cooling process and dry the dog. Further cooling may induce hypothermia and shock. Following an episode of heat stroke, take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Heat stroke can be associated with laryngeal edema. This seriously worsens the breathing problem and may require an emergency tracheostomy. An injection of cortisone before the onset of respiratory distress may prevent this problem. Other consequences of hyperthermia include kidney failure, spontaneous bleeding, irregular heartbeat, and seizures. These complications can occur hours or days later.
- Dogs with airway disease and breathing problems should be kept indoors with air conditioning or at least a fan during periods of high heat and humidity.
- Never leave your dog in a car with the windows closed, even if the car is parked in the shade.
- When traveling by car, crate the dog in a well-ventilated dog carrier, or better yet, an open wire cage.
- Restrict exercise in hot weather.
- Always provide shade and cool water to dogs outdoors, particularly those kenneled on cement or asphalt surfaces.
- Offer cooler surfaces outdoors for dogs to lie on, such as wooden planking, mats, or grass.