This time of the year is the most common time to see heatstroke. In the early summer as temperatures quickly rise pets are not yet acclimated to the summer heat. Risk factors include obesity, animals with respiratory disease, and age. It is common to hear about a dog that someone took out for the first Frisbee session of the year or was left in the car a little too long and is now unresponsive or convulsing.
Dogs and cats rid themselves of excess body heat primarily by panting since they lack the ability to cool themselves by sweating. Respiratory disease such as airway obstructions (in the case of breeds like pugs, bulldogs etc.) can greatly increase the chance of a rapid increase in body temperature. Muzzling a dog has the same effect. As the environmental temperature increases, so does the temperature of the inhaled air which results in heat retention.
The first signs of heatstroke include noisy rapid breathing. The tongue and gums will be bright red and the saliva will by very thick and ropy. Initially, the rectal temperature will be around 104 degrees but can quickly climb to 106 or higher. Once they start to overheat, the process can proceed very quickly. It is imperative to intervene quickly.
Get the animal to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Rapid and aggressive treatment is necessary to minimize the damage cause by heatstroke. If you are unable to get medical treatment, move the animal into the shade or air-conditioned building. Wet the dog with water. Do not use ice water as this may cause the peripheral blood vessels to construct which could be counterproductive. Use fans to assist the cooling. If wetting the dog does not seem to be helping, put ice packs in the armpits and flanks. Cool the dog to 103 degrees and then stop the aggressive cooling. Continue to monitor the rectal temperature to insure that it doesn’t climb again until the temperature reaches 102. Once the dog is cooled it is still important to have it examined to look for and treat internal organ damage that may have occurred. Kidney failure is a common complication of heatstroke and must be treated with intravenous fluids.
Heat stroke can be prevented by closely watching dogs during the summer months, providing fresh cool drinking water, shade, and restricting exercise during hot periods. Dogs with respiratory disease should not be subjected to hot temperatures.