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Dealing With Heat Stroke in Pets

The Dog Days of Summer
I used to think summers in New Jersey had excessive heat and humidity but now that we have moved further south to North Carolina high humidity has taken on a new meaning! Luckily, our dogs spend most of their time inside in air conditioning. English Toy and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are both brachycephalic breeds, meaning they have short noses and narrow airways, making them more susceptible to over-heating. Other brachycephalic breeds include Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers, Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, Japanese Chins, and Mastiffs. Obese dogs, seniors, pets with heart disease, and heavy coated dogs may also be more susceptible to heat stroke.
What is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is an extreme form of hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) that can lead to multiple organ failure and become fatal. Dogs and cats don't sweat like people do; they cool the body primarily through panting and small sweat glands in their paws. When environmental temperatures are too high, they struggle to cool down, which can cause heat stroke. Body temperature above 106 degrees can result in organ failure and death.

Signs of Heat Stroke
  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive salivation
  • Tongue dark red
  • Respiratory distress
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea with or without blood
  • Racing heart
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Collapse
  • Seizure
  • Shock
  • Coma
  • Bruising of the skin and mucous membranes
  • Death

How to Avoid Heat Stroke

  • Keep animals inside during the hottest parts of the day
  • Walk your dogs early in the morning and in the evening
  • Provide plenty of shade
  • Provide plenty of water to drink
  • Never leave your pet in the car on a hot day
  • Limit time outside to a few minutes during the heat of the day
  • Use cooling vests and cooling mats on hot days

Treating Heat Stroke

If you believe your pet is beginning to overheat, take immediate action.

  • Get them to a cool area. If you are unable to get inside, find a shady area. 
  • Offer water to drink. Do not offer ice cold water!
  • Apply lukewarm or cool water to the head and extremities.
  • Do not submerge them in cold water, as this can lead to shock and organ failure.
  • Apply alcohol to the foot pads.
  • Get them in front of a fan or air conditioner where air is moving.
  • Monitor their body temperature with a rectal thermometer. Once the temperature comes down to 102 degrees, stop cooling.
  • If the body temperature was 106 degrees or higher, take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible for treatment to prevent shock and organ failure. Despite looking good on the outside, life-threatening complications such as blood clotting problems, organ damage, or brain swelling may occur.