Heat Stroke in Dogs

by Jennifer Chaitman, VMD, ACVIM (Internal Medicine)

Heat stroke is a condition where a dog's body temperature raises to a dangerously high level and can result in death. It can happen within 10-20 minutes. Most of us know that we should not leave a dog in a car in the summer with the windows closed, yet few people realize that heat stroke can occur from going on a 20 minute walk in Central Park on a humid, hot day. Overweight dogs with dark furry coats and brachycephalic dogs (dogs with flat noses -- Bull dogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Frenchies) are also at great risk because they do not ventilate as well as dogs with longer noses and larger airways. Dogs cool themselves by moving air over their tongues. They do not sweat through their skin the way we do. Just imagine putting on a black mink full length coat and taking a walk in July on a typical New York City summer day. That is how dogs feel all the time. It is a misunderstanding that they insulate themselves from the heat by having a furry coat. In fact, furry dogs benefit greatly from having their fur clipped short in the hot summer months.

Signs of heat stroke include panting heavily, weakness, drooling, vomiting, red gums or very pale gums (normal gums are pink in color). In severe cases blood clotting abnormalities can occur and patients can bruise or bleed.

If you suspect your dog is having heat stroke, move the dog to a cool place, offer water, and take his temperature rectally by inserting a digital thermometer with some lubricant on it. If his temperature is above 104 and your dog is very weak, please see your veterinarian. If it is above 106, the dog should be seen immediately as he is in great danger. The veterinarian may use a cold water bath, place an intravenous catheter and start the patient on fluids and wipe his foot pads with alcohol to bring his temperature down.


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