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Heat Stroke in Dogs

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.

Diagnosis In-depth

Certain tests are needed to confirm the diagnosis of heat stroke and exclude other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. Your veterinarian will take a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. The following emergency tests may also be included:

  • Packed cell volume or PCV. This is a simple test to evaluate your dog for anemia. It determines the percentage of the blood occupied by red blood cells, which is normally 35 to 55 percent in dogs. Total plasma protein concentration (TP) evaluates the hydration status (water will be lost from the blood during dehydration resulting in a higher concentration of proteins in blood).

  • Activated clotting time (ACT) to evaluate for a life-threatening, body-wide disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which can result in consumption of the body's clotting proteins and ultimately the inability of the blood to clot.

  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and serum creatinine concentrations to evaluate kidney function since acute kidney failure can complicate heat stroke.

  • Blood glucose and electrolyte (sodium, potassium, chloride) concentrations to evaluate for body wide infection (sepsis) and metabolic abnormalities that can complicate heat stroke.

    Additional Tests

    Your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests to exclude or diagnose other conditions or to better understand the impact of heat stroke. These tests insure optimal medical care and are selected on a case-by-case basis. Examples include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC or hemogram) to evaluate your dog's hydration and to evaluate for the presence of blood loss, low platelet concentration or inflammation.

  • Serum biochemistry tests including tests of kidney function (blood urea nitrogen, serum creatinine and serum phosphorus concentrations), liver function (alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, alkaline phosphatase) and muscle function (creatine kinase).

  • Specialized tests of clotting function including prothrombin time (OSPT), partial thromboplastin time (APTT), platelet count, fibrinogen, and fibrin degradation products to identify the presence of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which may complicate heat stroke. The presence of "fibrin degradation products" indicates that fibrin (the active form of the blood clotting protein fibrinogen) has been broken down and supports the diagnosis of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).

  • Blood gas analysis may show abnormalities in body wide acid base balance including metabolic acidosis due to poor circulation and kidney failure or respiratory alkalosis from excessively rapid breathing.

  • Routine urinalysis to identify leakage of protein including the muscle protein myoglobin, which can damage the kidneys and cause acute kidney failure. Damaged kidney cells may be sloughed into the kidney tubules and form microscopic casts that indicate ongoing damage to the kidneys.

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) may be recommended if arrhythmias are suspected. Arrhythmias are a relatively common complication of heat stroke.

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