Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion in Dogs
By Dr. John A. Hamil
Hyperthermia (fever) is an elevation in body temperature above normal range for the species affected (dogs normal is 101.5F).
Heat Stroke (heat exhaustion) is a form of hyperthermia that occurs when heat-dissipating mechanisms of the body cannot accommodate excessive heat. Body temperatures above 105F are suggestive of heat stroke.
- Heat stroke can be seen in all breeds of all ages, but may be more likely in long haired and brachycephalic (short nosed) breeds as well as younger and older individuals.
- Elevated environmental temperature and humidity
- Confinement in a car or other area without adequate ventilation
- Restricted access to water
Signs of heat stroke are very similar to the signs seen in humans, although dogs pant more in an effort to cool themselves.
- Hypersalivation (drooling)
- Warm to touch
- Red mucous membranes of mouth
- Rapid heart rate
- Dry nose
- Quiet or poorly responsive, may lay down and refuse or be unable to rise
- Blood from mouth or in stool
- Muscle tremors
- Ataxia (staggering)
Heat stroke is best prevented by avoiding the previously listed risk factors and closely observing your dog. If you are hot so is your dog. Remember our dogs will always try to please us. Consequently, watch closely and do not ask your dog to exercise or play hard on hot humid days.
Whether indoors or outside, dogs can best acclimate to high temperatures if provided good air circulation, shade and access to fresh water.
If you suspect heat stroke, stop all activity and walk or carry your dog to a cool, shaded area with good air circulation. If the symptoms do not improve quickly and you are unable to take your dog’s temperature take your dog to your veterinarian immediately.
If you have access to a rectal thermometer, you should take your dog’s temperature. If the temperature is less than 105F, you should still consider this an emergency and immediately take your dog to your veterinarian. If the temperature is higher than 105F, using cool, not cold, water; sponge or hose your dog’s entire body, paying particular attention to the underside. Use of a fan is also helpful. After a few minutes retake the temperature and repeat this procedure until the temperature is reduced to 103F. Do not reduce the temperature below 103F, as the temperature may descend to critical levels.
Immediately take your dog to your veterinarian as soon as the temperature reaches 103F or if you are unable to reduce the temperature significantly.
John A. Hamil, DVM, is a veterinary practitioner, author and award-winning breeder of Bloodhounds. Dr. Hamil served as Captain in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, and has practiced veterinary medicine in California since 1971. He has a long history of service to both the American and California Veterinary Medical Associations including as a member of the Animal Welfare, and Human Animal Companion Bond Committees. He has been the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Western Regional Practitioner of the Year. Dr. Hamil is active on the Boards of Directors for a number of animal-centric nonprofit organizations in California, and currently serves on the American Kennel Club Animal Welfare Advisory Panel. His publications for the pet owner include Your Aging Cat, and Hands on Dog Care.
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