Heat Stroke – What You Need to Know
I met Max, a happy English bulldog, when I was in vet school at Penn. Like many dogs of his breed, he had a little extra “insulation” due to a fondness for treats and big brown eyes that were hard to say no to. Max was a typical couch potato dog who was happiest when he was sitting with his owner, watching the world go by from inside his home. One warm afternoon, as the temperature in Philadelphia neared 90 degrees, Max’s owner decided to take him for a walk to the farmer’s market. As the temperature climbed, what had seemed like a harmless and happy outing turned into a life-threatening emergency for Max.
Max quickly began to show signs of heat exhaustion. His gums became bright red, his breathing became loud and raspy, and he had a hard time keeping up with his owner. Soon, he was unable to stand at all. He became extremely lethargic and started to vomit. When he arrived at the veterinary hospital with his owner, Max was nearly unresponsive and his temperature had spiked to an astounding 107 degrees. He was hospitalized for heat stroke and remained in intensive care for nearly a week due to damage his internal organs had sustained from having reached such high temperatures. Fortunately, Max survived the ordeal. Sadly, this is not always the case for patients who suffer from heat stroke.
In Charlotte, long summer days mean more time to spend enjoying the outdoors with our four-legged family members. While many pets seem to enjoy the warmer weather almost as much as we do, it’s important to know how to recognize and – more importantly – prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Unlike humans, dogs are largely unable to sweat, instead regulating their body temperature through panting. Short-nosed or “brachycephalic” breeds top the list of the dogs who are at greatest risk of overheating because their airways are much narrower than they should be, significantly limiting the amount of heat that can be eliminated from their bodies through panting. As an English bulldog, Max was the poster child for an at-risk dog.
Early signs of heat stroke include increased respiratory rate, increased heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and depression. As the condition progresses, further problems such as collapse, seizures, severe respiratory distress, bloody diarrhea, and bloody vomiting develop. Unfortunately, severe heat stroke can quickly become fatal. With that said, prevention of this condition is vital and can be achieved by following several important guidelines:
1. When the weather becomes warm and humid, keep your dogs (particularly short-nosed breeds such as pugs, English bulldogs, Boston terriers, etc.) in a cool and controlled environment.
2. Ensure that water is available to your dog at all times.
3. Do not leave animals outdoors without adequate shade or water, and keep them indoors on warm days.
4. Never leave your pet locked inside a parked vehicle on a warm day. Temperatures inside a parked car can quickly exceed 140 degrees on a hot day.
5. Avoid places like the beach and concrete or asphalt areas where heat is reflected.
6. Take walks in the early morning and later evening, when the temperature is cooler. Try to limit time spent walking, exercising or playing with your dog outdoors during the daytime hours.
7. Take extra caution with older, obese, or otherwise sick animals.
By taking the right precautions, our hope is that your pets can safely enjoy summertime as much as you do. If you’re concerned that your dog may be suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, take him inside immediately, cover him in towels soaked in cool (but not too cold) water, turn on the air conditioning in your car, and bring him in to see your veterinarian right away.