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With The Warm Weather Approaching Beware:

Heatstroke Can Hurt The Healthiest of Pets

Heat stroke is a common emergency caused by severe elevations in the body temperature.  It frequently occurs in dogs in hot humid environments, such as pets left in cars during the summer months.  However we do see it in late spring and the first weeks of summer when pets have not had time to acclimate to the heat.  Predisposing factors include excess environmental humidity, water deprivation, obesity, and excessive exercise.  In addition, brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like pugs and bulldogs, and dogs with upper airway diseases like laryngeal paralysis are also more likely to develop problems.

Clinical signs seen with heat stroke include excessive panting, dark brick red gums, diarrhea, vomiting, wobbly gait, hypersalivation, and collapse.  In severe cases, loss of consciousness or altered mental status, muscle tremors, listlessness and seizures have been seen.  High rectal temperatures of 104.9-109.4 F can lead to severe problems (normal temperatures for dogs and cats range from 100-102.5) in multiple body systems and can cause organ failure.

If a pet is identified to be suffering from heat stroke, quick action should be taken.  Spray the pet with cool, not cold, water if readily available and take the pet to your local emergency clinic immediately.  During transportation, keep car windows open or the air conditioning on to continue to cool the pet.  Alternatively, fans can be used.  Dropping the body temperature as soon as possible provides the best outcome and reduces damage to internal organs.  However, caution must be used as making the pet too cold can also cause problems.

Prognosis is guarded depending on the severity and presence or absence of complicating factors.  Heat stroke can cause shock and affect major organ systems in the body, including the brain and neurologic system, gastro-intestinal tract (leading to ulcers, bloody diarrhea and vomiting), kidney failure and bleeding problems.  It is recommended to seek veterinary care as soon as possible for further evaluation and emergency treatment.

Yonaira Cortes, DVM, Diplomate ACVECC

Dr. Cortes graduated from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She completed an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. She then completed a three year residency in emergency and critical care medicine at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston before joining the emergency/critical care service at Oradell Animal Hospital. Dr. Cortes is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. She has special interests in metabolic emergencies, trauma and pain management. When not at work or with family and friends, she enjoys reading, practicing yoga and spending time with her two cats, Gordon and Pablo, and her dog, Stitch. Yonaira Cortes Publications & Contributions