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How to Avoid Heat Stroke in Pets

Just like us, our pets are affected by high temperatures and on extremely hot days animals can experience heat stroke. This is when animals overheat and their cooling mechanisms no longer function properly. In this event your pet will need to be hospitalized as it’s an emergency. Here’s how you can prevent, identify and treat heat stroke in animals.

What is a heat stroke in animals?

Heat stroke is hyperthermia (high body temperature) that develops when the body’s normal cooling mechanisms (mainly panting) are overcome by heat. The body temperatures in these animals are often 106° F and above.

What are some signs of a heat stroke?

Excessive panting and signs of discomfort indicate overheating in dogs. A dog overheating may also be unable or unwilling to move around. Other signs of heatstroke in dogs include drooling, reddened gums, vomiting, diarrhea, mental dullness or loss of consciousness, uncoordinated movement, and collapse.

How long does a heat stroke last?

While heat stroke can happen quickly, there is often a progression from mild heat stress to the more moderate heat exhaustion before reaching the most severe condition of heat stroke.

How do you treat a heat stroke?

Hospitalization of patients with heat stroke is imperative. Most animals require intensive care and monitoring for a couple of days. Initial treatment involves cooling the patient relatively aggressively, oxygen support and IV fluids. Some patients with severe upper respiratory compromise require a tube placed in the trachea to breathe through. Sedation may be necessary to keep very anxious/hyperactive animals quiet and cool. Broad-spectrum IV antibiotics and GI protectants are indicated in most cases. Other specific medications will be used based on the signs/sequella that arise (i.e. antiseizure medications, anti-arrhythmics). Blood pressure, ECG and urine output monitoring is important.

Above all the most important thing for owners to understand about heat stroke is that it’s an emergency situation. The animal should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment. Cooling during transport with air conditioning and wet towels is a good idea, but delay in getting the animal to the hospital for cooling at home is not recommended. Aggressive care at a veterinary facility will give the best chance of full recovery, but owners must be aware of the possibility of complications and the guarded prognosis from the beginning.

How can heat strokes be best prevented?

To protect your dog from a heat stroke, take the time to learn the signs and symptoms of heat stroke in dogs. Always ensure that your dog has access to water and shade in hot temperatures, and never leave your dog in a hot car even if it is only for “a few minutes”. When temperatures rise beyond what are average, give your dog greater respite from the heat. Modify your dogs exercise routine in hot weather, forego rigorous exercise during heat waves.

Are certain animals more susceptible to heat stroke?

Obese animals and those with thick hair coats are at an increased risk. The brachycephalic (short-nosed) dog breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Boxers, etc. are especially predisposed due to breed related upper airway conformation. Dogs with laryngeal paralysis are also at risk.  Animals shut in cars without the windows down can suffer from heat stroke even on a cool day.

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