What is heat stroke?
Hyperthermia is defined as a body temperature above the normal range, which is between 38.2-39.5 C. Hyperthermia can be caused by many internal infectious or inflammatory processes, however it can also be caused by a heat load exceeding the animal’s ability to get rid of it. Hyperthermia in this setting can be caused by increased activity, hot environmental conditions, medical conditions and impaired heat dissipating mechanisms (ie. inability to pant).
How can I tell if my pet has heat stroke?
Heat associated illness can affect ANY animal. Hyperthermia associated with hot environmental conditions may be exhibited as:
- Heat stress: thirst, discomfort associated with physical activity
- Heat exhaustion: intense thirst, weakness, discomfort, anxiety, fainting
- Heat stroke: severe illness associated with central nervous system abnormalities and multi-organ dysfunction, ultimately leading to death without immediate treatment. Your pet can be depressed and weak or in a coma, can see seizures and vomiting/diarrhea, respiratory rate can be increased OR normal
Heat stroke is an EMERGENCY. If you suspect your pet has heat stroke, go to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
How can I prevent my pet from getting heat stroke?
- Take extra precautions with brachycephalic breeds, animals with upper airway disease, animals with thick hair coats, as well as geriatric, obese and pregnant animals because they are more prone to heat stroke
- Do not tether your animal outside without access to shade and water
- Working dogs or those exercising with owners will often run until they stagger or ‘drop’, especially during seasonal changes because they have not acclimatized to the hotter weather, therefore make sure to stop exercising as soon as you see the beginning signs of heat stress.
- Exercise can be hazardous to pets in high humidity or during heatwaves
- Do NOT leave your pet confined in a closed vehicle during warm weather or where there is direct sunlight. Even in cooler outdoor temperatures, the temperature inside the car may be much higher.
What can I do to treat heat stroke before taking my pet to the clinic?
- Take rectal temperature as soon as possible while cooling the animal by gentle hosing with cool water or placing the animal into a cool bath
- Water immersion should only be for a short period of time (15 minutes), take care not to immerse head underwater to avoid accidental swallowing of water
- Take rectal temperature again and if animal seems to be stable and temperature is coming down, continue to cool
- If unstable and in shock, transport to clinic with ice packs, do not dry the animal and travel with car windows open and air conditioner on
- Be careful not to reduce the temperature to lower than normal range because this worsens outcome -> continual monitoring of rectal temperature is essential
- It is advised that ALL animals come to the clinic!