Heatstroke in Dogs

As summer sets in, it is important to review the risks and danger of heatstroke. Heatstroke can have irreversible and fatal effects in dogs.

By | Posted: July 12, 2012, 8 a.m. EDT

BulldogMany dog owners may not be aware of the effects of exercising in hot weather, or a short stay inside a vehicle, or the problems that short-nosed breeds like Bulldogs can have in hotter weather.

What is heatstroke?

Since dogs cannot sweat, they must lose heat by panting, and they are often limited in how much heat can be dissipated fast enough. When a dog's body temperature gets above 104 degrees, and it is not due to a fever, damage starts to occur. The cells lining the intestine start to die off, leading to bacteria entering the bloodstream. Blood flow to the liver and kidneys can be slowed, leading to organ damage. The brain can start to swell in the skull, leading to a coma-like state. Blood can start to form clots, or is unable to clot due to loss of platelets.

The combination of some or all of these changes can be difficult to treat, even in the most advanced emergency facility. Body temperatures above 108 degrees are usually not survivable.

Important Things to Know

  • If your dog is overheated, it is critically important that cooling be gradual
  • Some dogs are more susceptible to heat stroke than others, especially breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs and Boston Terriers. On the other hand, dogs raised to work livestock or hunt (Viszlas or Retrievers) often are more tolerant of higher temperatures.
  • Often heatstroke occurs on deceivingly warm days when owners inadvertently overwork their dogs or allow them to overheat.

Prevention

Heatstroke is a good example of an entirely preventable, but potentially fatal, condition in dogs. During the warmer months of the year, dog owners should be vigilant of the risks of heatstroke. To prevent your dog from overheating make sure to keep them in the shade or air-conditioning, keep exercising to a minimum on hot days. Never leave your dog in the car on a warm day and be sure to always keep your dog hydrated.

Treatment

Cool your dog gradually. Dog owners should initially use a wet towel to cool off any dog suspected of heat stroke or overheating, and then gently mist them off (do not spray them or submerse them in water). A fan can be used to help increase evaporative cooling, and the dog can lay on a cool floor surface. Once the body temperature is gradually reduced to 103 F, further cooling efforts are not necessary. If a dog is cooled off too quickly, they can go into shock and organ failure.

Contact your veterinarian to determine if your dog needs an examination.

In an emergency hospital, intravenous fluids are used to help cool the body. As soon as possible, a plasma transfusion is given to help replace any clotting factors that are lost. Dogs with heatstroke must be closely monitored in the hospital for any changes for at least 24 hours.

The prognosis depends upon how high a dog's body temperature goes, and for how long; often this information is not known. Veterinarians can also look at some blood under the microscope and determine the prognosis based on changes in some of the red blood cells.


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Eileen - 249708   Port Perry, ON

3/1/2013 3:57:33 AM

Excellent article, my dog does competitive dog sport in the summer months and we purchased a cooling jacket for her so she does not over heat especially with all the running she does when competeting in the hot sun.

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Leslie - 233329   Lakeside, AZ

2/9/2013 9:58:46 AM

Very good information. thanks

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Kelly - 224776   Aberdeen, NC

7/29/2012 1:54:33 PM

I live ijn NC and the summer is brutal! I freeze tupperwear containers of water and put the blocks in my dog's water bowl. I also hose down her igloo and heer too! Gotta do what ya gotta do!

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