Spring has finally sprung and summer isn’t far behind. When the weather gets warmer I start to get concerned about heat stroke, particularly in our canine friends, though cats can be affected, too. Dogs left in hot cars or tied out in the sun are at risk for this deadly condition. So what is heat stroke, how do you prevent it, and what do you do if you suspect your dog may be a victim?

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. The term describes a condition of extreme elevated body temperature, sometimes 106 degrees or more. This severely high body temperature causes damage to cells and blood vessels, brain damage, shock, and eventual death. Dogs that are suffering can present in many different ways, but there are a few common signs to look out for. Aggressive, relentless panting is one common sign. Dogs with heat stroke often pant regardless of distractions such as speaking their name or offering a dog treat. Unwillingness to accept water when offered is another common symptom. Many heat stroke victims appear drunk and may stagger or be unwilling or unable to stand or walk. In severe cases, dogs may seizure repeatedly.

If you suspect your dog is not just hot but is suffering from heat stroke, you must act rapidly. Potentially irreversible life threatening changes are occurring internally and moments count. The first thing to do is remove your dog from the heat. Take them inside your home or cooled garage. Next wet them down with cool, but NOT cold, water. Offer, but do not try and force your dog to drink water. Once the dog is wet and the cooling process is started take her immediately to your veterinarian.

Once at the vet’s office, your dog’s rectal temperature will be taken, a blood sample will be drawn to check for toxic changes and internal cooling will begin by the administration of intravenous fluids. In severe cases oxygen or intravenous drugs may need to be administered to halt dangerous cellular changes which are occurring internally. Your dog’s temperature will be closely monitored during this process as it is common during aggressive cooling for the temperature to drop too quickly or to low, another potentially dangerous condition.

Obviously it’s best to avoid heat stroke altogether. If at all possible, consider keeping your dog in the house during the hottest part of the day. If that is simply not an option for your dog, then consider the garage or breezeway. If your dog must stay outside then make sure they have adequate access to deep shade. That means a large area that remains shaded for most of the day and not simply a small moving patch of shade under a single tree or a small cramped dog house. Keep a large volume of fresh water available and change it daily to avoid mosquito larvae. If your dog likes to swim, consider keeping a small plastic baby pool half filled with water so she can take a soak.

Remember heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention. Keep your dog and yourself cool this summer and avoid this dangerous condition.

The author, Veterinarian, Dr. Melissa Wheeler, owns Central Carolina Veterinary Hospital in Burlington, NC.

Burlington Times

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