What exactly is a heat stroke?
While more prevalent during the summer, heat stroke can occur at any time. However, it can develop unexpectedly and with little to no notice. In contrast to humans, dogs and cats behave differently to heat. Humans regulate their body temperature through sweat glands located throughout their bodies. However, dogs and cats have very few sweat glands in their paw pads and around their noses. To cool themselves, our pets mostly expel heat through panting. The sweat glands in their paw pads and nostrils contribute minimally to heat dissipation. Hyperthermia and heat-related illnesses can occur when our pets cannot cool themselves through panting. Hyperthermia occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above its typical range of 39.0 degrees Celsius.
Are heat stress and heat exhaustion the same as heat stroke?
There are three distinct varieties of hyperthermia. Although many individuals use these names interchangeably, there are distinctions between the conditions, and each varies in severity.
There is a correlation between heat stress and increased thirst and panting. The patient is cognitively alert and able to move about independently. Visit our Heat Stress in Dogs blog for a more comprehensive look at the signs and symptoms of heat stress.
Heat exhaustion is a more severe illness than heat stress. It is accompanied by increased thirst, overall weakness, and heavy breathing. Patients are also cognitively aware but too weak or exhausted to react; they may be unable to move or even fall.
The most severe type of hyperthermia is heat stroke. When your pet’s temperature hits 41.1 degrees or higher, this condition is present. At this temperature, brain dysfunction and organ collapse ensue. Once their temperature hits or exceeds 43 degrees, the proteins that are the basis of all bodily cells begin to dissolve. While there is no conclusive point at which these systems collapse, higher temperatures and longer periods of exposure to heat will increase the likelihood of organ malfunction and mortality.
The symptoms of heat stroke are devastating, and immediate care is required in all cases, even when heat stroke is suspected because every second makes a substantial difference in the prognosis.
What are the symptoms and indicators of heat stroke in canines?
There are several indications and symptoms associated with heat stroke in dogs. Signs and symptoms will rapidly worsen and may result in death. The early symptoms of heat stroke in dogs include some or all of the following:
- Increased body temperature
- Anxiety or restlessness
- Excessive panting or respiratory difficulties
- Drooling, frequently highly viscous saliva
- Variation in gum color (dark red, pale, purple or blue)
As the illness progresses, the following symptoms appear:
- Vomiting or diarrhea (possibly with blood)
- Accelerating heart rate
- Lethargy or immobility
- Vertigo – do they have difficulty walking straight?
- Indicates confusion and delirium
- Muscle tremors
Although it is uncommon, cats can suffer from heat stroke. The symptoms and signs of heat stroke in cats are remarkably similar to those in dogs, except for a few symptoms that are specific to cats.
What causes heat stroke?
Numerous causes and circumstances contribute to the occurrence of heat stroke in dogs. However, certain pets are at a higher risk because of their breed or pre-existing medical concerns. Environmental factors that contribute include:
- Extreme temperatures
- High relative humidity
- Inadequate air circulation/ventilation
- Absence of or insufficient shade
- Absence or inadequacy of potable water
- Excessive exercise
- Pets are not accustomed to the heat. It might take dogs up to 60 days to acclimate to substantial temperature changes.
- Animals left in closed homes or garages without cooling
- Pets are abandoned in cars. Even on pleasant days or with open windows, the temperature can climb rapidly.
While all pets are prone to heat stroke, certain species are more susceptible than others. These animals include
- Small creatures, such as birds, guinea pigs, rats & mice, rabbits, and ferrets. These animals are frequently confined to cages and hutches and cannot move to cooler environments. They must be relocated to cool, shady, well-ventilated locations with ample water during hot weather. Wrapping their cages in wet towels and providing them with an icepack or frozen water bottle to adjust their body temperature will help to provide them with respite.
- Extremes in ages (young and old)
- Thick or lengthy coatings retain heat
- Obese or overweight dogs
- Large breed dogs
- Extremely energetic working and hunting dogs, including shepherds and retrievers
- Brachycephalic breeds are also known as animals with short noses and flat faces. Their smaller and more narrow noses, lengthy soft palate, and underdeveloped and smaller airways hinder airflow, making it difficult for them to cool themselves. Pugs, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, Pekingese, Persian and Himalayan cats are among these breeds. Brachycephalic breeds are 146 percent more likely than other dogs to suffer from heat stroke. This must be considered when contemplating sitting at a cafe with the dogs on a hot day.
- Canines with a respiratory ailment or breathing difficulties, such as laryngeal (vocal cord) paralysis or a collapsed trachea
- Canines with cardiac or cardiovascular disease
- Canines with neurological disorders
How quickly does a dog die from heat stroke?
Although there is no set period for a dog to die from a heat-related illness, death might occur within an hour. This is particularly true for dogs who are susceptible to heat stroke. However, there have been instances where a dog has died within 15 minutes after the onset of heat stroke.
Heat stroke leads to multiple organ failure, and the prognosis declines by 25% for each afflicted organ. Heat stroke recovery is nearly impossible if left untreated. Some dogs can recover completely from heat stroke if diagnosed and treated promptly. Others may have chronic organ damage and require lifelong therapy.
How to treat a dog's heat stroke?
Heat stroke is a life-threatening disorder that necessitates rapid treatment to maximize the likelihood of survival. Follow these procedures and contact a veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet is suffering from heat stroke and exhibiting any of the above symptoms:
- Take your dog out of the heated atmosphere.
- Gradually reduce your dog’s body temperature by drenching them with a hose or bucket (avoid the face); a fan blowing over their wet skin will aid in evaporative cooling.
- Avoid using ice baths (this can cool them too rapidly and cause constriction of the blood vessels lowering their cooling ability)
- Soaking the ground around your dog can also reduce the ambient warmth.
- Offer water
- Consult a veterinarian promptly.
How do veterinarians cure heat stroke?
Once you get to your local veterinarian’s office or the animal emergency hospital closest to you, the veterinarian(s) will evaluate the severity of your pet’s heat stroke severity and initiate emergency treatment as necessary. The treatment for heat stroke can be complicated and frequently involves lengthy hospital stays. The treatment may involve:
- Emergency cooling, particularly if your pet’s body temperature is elevated
- Intravenous fluids to treat dehydration and shock and to internally cool the body
- Oxygen treatment
- Anesthesia and airway intubation for animals with difficulty breathing or that are unconscious
- In cases of vomiting and diarrhea, gastric protectants and anti-nausea drugs are prescribed (as the gut may slough and start to die)
- Antibiotics for secondary sepsis prevention (blood poisoning)
- Pain alleviation
- Heart medicines, if necessary
- Blood tests to evaluate the severity of dehydration, coagulation test, organ function, and monitor the patient’s reaction to treatment.
- Blood or plasma transfusions for patients with coagulation disorders
- Continuous monitoring and treatment, typically within an intensive care unit
How to protect your dog against heatstroke
Heat stroke can be prevented. In addition to being aware of the indications and symptoms so that urgent treatment may be offered, ensure that your pet(s) are kept in appropriate environmental circumstances. These consist of:
- Pets should never be left unattended in parked cars.
- Plan automobile travels – keep the vehicle cool, make numerous stops, and stock up on water
- Avoid physical activity during day time
- Ensure ample availability of cool water and shade
- Pets should not be left inside heated, closed homes or garages.
- Avoid walking your pet on scorching sand, concrete, bitumen, and other reflective surfaces.
- Maintain your dog’s hydration by providing easy access to water
- Advice on keeping your dog cool
In conclusion, it is important to be aware of the dangers of heat stroke in dogs and take the necessary precautions to prevent it. Some tips for preventing your dog from getting heat stroke are keeping them hydrated, making sure they have a shady spot to rest in, and never leaving them in a car parked in the sun. You can keep your dog safe during the hot summer months by following these tips