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Heat Stroke in Dogs

Overview of Heat Stroke in Dogs

Heat stroke is a condition arising from extremely high body temperature (rectal temperature of 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit), which leads to nervous system abnormalities that may include lethargy, weakness, collapse or coma. Abnormally high body temperature (also called hyperthermia) develops in dogs after increased muscular activity with impaired ability to give off heat due to high heat and humidity or respiratory obstruction. Allowing a dog to remain in a car with closed windows on a hot summer day is probably the most common cause of heat stroke.

Below is an overview of heatstroke in dogs followed by in-depth information about the diagnosis, treatment and prognosis associated with canine heatstroke.

Normal dogs dissipate heat from their skin. In addition, panting allows evaporation of water from the respiratory tract and is an effective method of heat dissipation. When these mechanisms are overwhelmed, hyperthermia and heat stroke usually develop. The elevation in body temperature stimulates the body to release substances that activate inflammation. At temperatures greater than 109 Fahrenheit, failure of vital organs, and consequently death, can occur.

Heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps can occur after exposure to extremely high environmental temperatures. These illnesses occur in all mammals and can be prevented by taking proper precautions.

Animals at greatest risk for heat-related illness include:

What to Watch For

Diagnosis of Heatstroke in Dogs

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

Treatment of Heatstroke in Dogs

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

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:

In-depth Information on Canine Heat Stroke

Other medical problems can lead to symptoms similar to those encountered in heat stroke. These conditions should be excluded before establishing a definitive diagnosis of heat stroke:

Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.

Diagnosis In-depth on Canine Heat Stroke

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:

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:

Treatment In-depth on Canine Heat Stroke

Treatment of heat stroke must be individualized and based on the severity of the condition and other factors that must be analyzed by your veterinarian. Treatments may include:

Prognosis for Heatstroke in Dogs

The prognosis is variable. The prognosis depends on the severity of the clinical signs, response to treatment and secondary complications. Pets that are extremely mentally depressed or that have active signs of hemorrhage have a poorer prognosis.

Optimal treatment for your dog requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up is crucial. Administer any medications prescribed by your veterinarian and contact your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your dog.

Observe your dog’s activity level and appetite. Monitor his skin for bruising and gums for pinpoint hemorrhages.

Your dog should be re-examined after 3 to 7 days to evaluate serum biochemical tests and an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) if arrhythmias were detected during hospitalization.

The actual follow-up procedure employed will depend on the severity of your dog’s heat illness, his response to therapy, and your veterinarian’s recommendations.

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