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Heat Stroke in Dogs

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Diagnosis

Diagnostic tests are needed to diagnose heat stroke and assess the extent of vital organ dysfunction, including:

  • A complete medical history and thorough physical examination, including rectal temperature.

  • A complete blood count (CBC or hemogram) to assess the severity of dehydration and cardiovascular stress.

  • Tests of coagulation including: activated coagulation time (ACT); prothrombin time (OSPT); partial thromboplastin time (APTT); serum fibrinogen concentration; platelet count; and fibrin degradation products (FDPs) to identify the presence of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) a life-threatening body-wide failure of blood clotting that is often a complication of heat stroke. The presence of breakdown products of fibrin (called fibrin degradation products) can serve as an important clue to the presence of DIC.

  • Serum biochemistry tests to check blood glucose concentration, assess the extent of damage to vital organs, such as muscles, kidneys and liver, and to evaluate the electrolyte and acid base status.

    Treatment

    Intensity of treatment depends upon the cause and severity of the heat illness.

  • Mildly increased temperature (less than 105 F) may only require rest, a fan to increase air circulation, fresh water to drink and careful observation.

  • Temperatures of 105 to 107 F should be hospitalized on intravenous fluids and other medications.

  • Markedly increased temperature (greater than 107 F) must be treated more aggressively. Cooling can be promoted externally by immersion in cool water, or internally by administering a cool water enema.

  • Underlying aggravating conditions, such as upper airway obstructive diseases, heart disease, pulmonary disease and dehydration may be treated with appropriate medications, supplemental oxygen or fluid therapy.

  • Treatment with cortisone-like drugs such as short-acting forms of dexamethasone or prednisone may be recommended.

    The need for additional treatments depends on the severity of heat stroke and secondary complications that may arise. Complications of heat stroke may include:

  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)
  • Liver failure
  • Acute kidney failure
  • Muscle breakdown
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Convulsions (seizures)
  • Secondary infections (including pneumonia)
  • Gastrointestinal problems including bleeding and absorption of bacteria or toxins from the intestine with development of systemic infection (sepsis)

    Home Care and Prevention

    Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency. Check your dog's temperature rectally if you suspect heatstroke. Normal body temperature in dogs is higher than in humans (99.5 to 102.5 F as compared to 98.6 F). If your dog's temperature is over 105 F, call your veterinarian and remove your dog from the heat source immediately.

    Meanwhile, place a cool, wet towel over your dog or place him in a cool water bath. Do not use ice because it may cause skin injury.

    There are several things you can do to prevent heat related problems for your dog:

  • Monitor outdoor temperature and minimize your dog's activity on hot, humid days.

  • Limit sun exposure during the hours of 11 AM to 3 PM on hot days.

  • Walk or exercise your dog in the morning or evening.

  • Keep your dog in a comfortable environment (air-conditioned room or partially open windows with a breeze) during extremely hot weather.

  • NEVER leave your dog in a car (even with the windows partially rolled down) for any reason at any time. Leaving dogs in a car during warm weather is the most common cause of heat stroke.

  • Provide your dog with plenty of fresh water and plenty of shade. Take extra care with puppies, pets with medical problems, obese pets and senior pets.

  • If possible, allow your dog to acclimate gradually to high temperatures. Heat illness is common in the spring when the animal has not had sufficient time to acclimate to the warmer temperatures.

  • After traveling to a warmer climate, allow your dog several days to become acclimated before allowing any vigorous exercise.

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