Heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia, is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when your pet’s body temperature becomes extremely elevated. A normal body temperature in a dog should be between 101.0 ˚F and 102.5 ˚F. If the temperature rises above 105.0 ˚F, the risk for a true emergency becomes a concern and medical attention should be sought.
There are multiple scenarios that can lead to your pet becoming overheated. Some of the more common situations include:
Other factors, such as breed and bodyweight, also increase the risk of developing heat stroke. Factors that may increase your dogs risk include:
A pet that becomes overheated will become distressed, pant excessively and becoming restless. As the hyperthermia progresses, your pet will likely begin to drool and become unsteady. Their gums may become very red or change to a dark blue or purple color.
If your pet begins to show signs of overheating, quickly remove them from the environment where the event occurred. Move the pet to a cool, shaded area with direct airflow on them. You can use cool, but not cold, water over the body to try and bring their temperature down. If that is not possible, wet towels can be placed on the pet. Cold water can cause vasoconstriction and actually slow the cooling process. Water can be offered if your pet is alert and able to drink. Do not try to force water into your pet’s mouth. These initial steps can be done in preparation to transporting your pet to the nearest veterinary clinic for evaluation.
Hyperthermia is a serious condition. The elevation in body temperature can cause severe damage to every system in the body including the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, liver, brain and can affect the ability of the blood to clot normally. Prognosis is variable for each patient and will depend on the ability to prevent long term damage to the body systems. Even if the temperature can be normalized quickly, most patients require intense treatment and monitoring to ensure that each body system is functioning properly.
The key to avoiding a tragedy is to recognize the situations that put your pet at risk for heat stroke. Knowing what factors put your pet at risk and avoiding those situations is the key to lowering your pet’s chance of developing heat stroke.