How should I deal with heat stroke in my dog?

April 13, 2012

Hyperthermia, commonly known as heat stroke is a medical emergency. The condition has to be recognized immediately so that prompt treatment can be given. Heat stroke is most common during the summer months when people would indulge in fun activities under the heat of the sun. Not many dog owners are aware that the pet can get heat stroke too. This condition is even more prevalent in dogs than in humans given the fact that dogs have a rather poor cooling system. Dogs cannot tolerate high temperatures very well as unlike humans, dogs’ very few sweat glands are mostly found in the paw pads. A dog running on hot pavement, confined in a car in hot weather or allowed to stay outdoors during the hottest time of the day with inadequate shelter will overheat. Thermoregulation or the dog’s ability to maintain body temperature within the normal level will be compromised. This heat regulating mechanism will be overwhelmed if the dog is exposed to excessive heat causing body temperature to rise wildly. The elevation in body temperature will cause the dog to pant. This rapid breathing is supposed to replace warm air with cooler air. However, the dog will also get warm air if the weather is hot making this process inefficient. Moreover, when the dog pants heavily it will be losing precious water making the situation worse.

A dog’s normal body temperature should be between 100 and 102.5 ° F. Vital organs of the body can be damaged if body temperature rises too high. The brain, heart, kidneys and liver will be put at risk. Accelerated heart rate will cause the dog to pant even more. Heatstroke is characterized by rapid and frantic breathing. The dog’s tongue and gums will dry out and turn bright red as the blood vessels dilate in an attempt to dissipate heat more effectively. The dog will foam in the mouth as the saliva thickens. The dog may vomit and pass out bloody diarrhea. At this point, rectal temperature reading will be over 106  ° F. Severe heatstroke can result to irreversible damage to vital organs. The dog that staggers or refuses to move will become progressively weaker. The dog will eventually collapse or seize. If no treatment is administered coma and death follow.

Heat stroke is a very serious concern of dogs. Pet parents have to be aware of the symptoms of this life threatening condition. Once symptoms are noticed, no time must be wasted. The dog has to have immediate treatment lest the condition results to irreversible organ damage or result to the death of the dog. The dog must be moved out from the heat right away. Take the dog to an air conditioned room or to a shaded or cooler area. Wet towels or rags placed on the dog’s head, body and especially on the foot pads will help in returning body temperature to its normal level. This emergency measure would do for mild cases of heat stroke but if the rectal temperature reading is over 104  ° F, the dog has to be hosed down or immersed in a tub of water. This is very important – do not use ice water or very cold water on the tub. Very cold water will constrict the blood vessels thereby preventing the body from cooling and causing internal temperature to rise further. Rapid lowering of body temperature is necessary if the dog’s temperature has reached 106  ° F. The dog has to have cold water enema. It may be necessary to administer fluids intravenously as well.