Heat prostration, or heat exhaustion/heat stroke, is an elevation of body temperature. Heat stroke occurs during the hot summer months due to high environmental temperatures and a dog’s inability to dissipate heat.
Dogs cannot sweat to keep cool like humans. Instead, they rely on panting to lower their body temperature. Short-nosed breeds (such as bulldogs and pugs), overweight, and dark-colored dogs are especially at risk. High body temperatures can cause tissue and organ damage and other life-threatening complications.
What does heat prostration look like?
A pet suffering from heat stroke can exhibit many different signs, such as: excessive panting, collapse, inability to rise, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and sudden death. Body temperature will be elevated above 104°F. The dog’s gums may be bright red. The pet may seem dazed and unaware of its surroundings. Tiny red splotches, or petechiations, may be seen on the dog’s skin.
What should I do if I suspect my pet is suffering from heat prostration?
This is an emergency! Contact a veterinary hospital or emergency clinic. Move the animal out of the heat into a cool area. Immerse the dog in cool (not cold) water using a garden hose or tub. Do NOT cover the pet in ice; this can actually be more harmful than good. Apply cool, moist towels to the groin and neck area and transport your pet to a veterinarian immediately.
How is heat prostration treated?
Your veterinarian will continue to cool your pet to a normal body temperature. Intravenous (IV) fluids will be given. A blood sample will be analyzed to determine how well the body’s organs are functioning. Medications will be given to control seizures, irregular heartbeats, and swelling around the brain.
One major complication of heat stroke is disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC. This is when tiny blood clots form throughout the body. These tiny clots can result in damage to internal organs or hemorrhage. DIC is difficult to control once it starts. What is the prognosis? The prognosis for a pet suffering from heat stroke is variable and dependent on the severity of the pet’s symptoms and complications. Many pets recover fully. Some pets are not so lucky.
How can I prevent heat prostration in my pet?
Keep pets indoors or provide plenty of shade if they must be outside. Provide access to fresh water at all times. Avoid long walks on hot days and monitor your pet’s breathing while exercising. Sand is hot, keep your pet off the beach during peak sun. Parked vehicles heat up very quickly, NEVER leave your pet in a parked car.
Kelly D. Gimbel, DVM
Martin’s Point Veterinary Hospital