Primer On Heat Stroke In Dogs | Birmingham Animal Hospital + Resort | Birmingham AlabamaWith summer temps in Birmingham averaging 90 degrees & average humidity ranging between 50-80%, heat stroke in dogs & cats poses a very real danger for pets. The good news is that heat stroke in dogs and cats is totally preventable.

What Is Heat Stroke In Dogs & Cats?

Heat stroke is a dangerous, potentially deadly condition that occurs when a pet is exposed to excessive heat, humidity, and sun. When a dog or cat develops heat stroke, their body temperature rises to dangerously high levels. Heat stroke can lead to seizures, permanent organ damage, and death.

Pet Parent Alert!
When your dog’s temperature rises higher than 109 degrees, it’s a virtual certainty that your dog or cat will get heat stroke and die without immediate medical treatment. At 109 degrees, your pet’s cell membrane stability and normal enzyme activity will alter at this temperature and higher.

If your dog or cat develops heat stroke, the following conditions can develop:

  • Brain swelling (Brain swelling often leads to seizures and is intensely painful.)
  • Cell death (Cells throughout the body will start to die.)
  • Dehydration (Dehydration can lead to permanent kidney damage.)
  • Organ failure (Organs can fail, leading to death.)

If this all sounds serious and scary, it is. Heat stroke in dogs and cats occurs far more than it should, and this condition is totally preventable with common sense care of your pets.

Why Are Dogs & Cats Particularly Susceptible To Heat Stroke?

Dogs & cats are particularly susceptible to heat stroke for one simple reason: They can’t sweat to cool down like humans can. Why?

  • First and foremost, dogs & cats have very minimal sweat glands.
  • Second, they have fur which holds heat in their bodies.

Dogs & cats can release a limited amount of heat by panting. They also can release a modest amount of heat through their paws. But in the case of dogs, if they’re being walked on pavement that’s 100-140 degrees, the ability to release heat through the paws disappears.

As a result, dogs & cats are extremely vulnerable to heat stroke, especially in hot, humid climates.

What Are The Signs Of Heat Stroke In Dogs & Cats?

It’s critically important to be able to spot signs on heat stroke in your dogs & cats. If your pet has heat stroke, you’ll see the symptoms below.

  • Glazed eyes
  • Dark red tongue & gums
  • Heavy panting & drooling
  • Inability to walk or stand (staggering)

As the heat stroke becomes even more life threatening, you’ll see these symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Collapse & loss of consciousness
Pet Parent Alert!
If you spot any of these symptoms in your dog or cat, you must take immediate action to prevent permanent organ damage or death.

What Should I Do If My Dog or Cat Has Heat Stroke?

Step 1: First, call your veterinarian.
Call & alert the hospital you’re on your way to the hospital with a heat stroke emergency

Step 2: Don’t delay getting to the vet, but take emergency action to cool your pet down.
Medical research shows that if you take emergency action to cool your pet before rushing to the veterinary hospital, your pet will have a 40% better chance of surviving.

The goal is to gradually lower your pet’s body temperature. If you do this too fast, you can cause more medical complications. Here are some tips on how to start to safely bring your pet’s body temperature down:

  • Immediately move your pet out of the sun and into the shade.
  • Stand your pet in a bathtub or sink, and then pour cool water over them. Let the cool water drain away vs. pooling. Do not use icy cold water as that can constrict blood vessels & cause your pet to retain heat.
  • Offer your pet cool water to drink but do NOT put ice in the water. If they refuse the water, don’t force them to drink.
  • If you have cold packs in the freezer, wrap the cold packs in paper towels & lay the cold packs on your pet.
  • Drive to the vet hospital with the air conditioning on full force.

Standard Medical Treatments for Pets With Heat Stroke

While responses to heat stroke vary by patient, some standard veterinary medical treatments for heat stroke include:

  • Administration of oxygen
  • Intravenous fluids

These standard heat stroke treatments need to be done in conjunction with pulling blood samples and continuously monitoring your pet’s temperature, heart rate & blood pressure.

How to Prevent Heat Stroke in Dogs & Cats

The common sense way to help your pets live long lives is to prevent heat stroke. Here are common sense actions to take to keep your pets from developing heat stroke:

Heat Stroke Prevention Tip 1: NEVER leave your dog or cat in the car, even for “just 5 minutes.” Cars heat up to dangerously high temperatures in less than 5 minutes, even with the windows cracked on a 70-degree day.

Heat Stroke Prevention Tip 2: Exercise your pets in the early morning when it’s cooler.

Heat Stroke Prevention Tip 3: Don’t walk your dog during the heat of the day. When the ambient temperature is 100 degrees, an asphalt street or concrete sidewalk will be upwards of 130 degrees in surface temperature. Your dog is walking on that with no foot protection. Not only can walking on those hot surfaces burn your dog’s paws, but it can contribute to heat stroke.

Heat Stroke Prevention Tip 4: Keep your pets inside during the hot days with shades or blinds drawn to keep the room cooler and run a fan or air conditioner.

Heat Stroke Prevention Tip 5: Maintain a clean bowl of water for your pets to drink when they are hot and thirsty.

The bottom line is that your pets will live longer, healthier lives if you prevent heat stroke vs. creating a medical emergency in which your dog or cat must be treated for heat stroke to save their life. The best way to prevent this deadly condition is to take common sense measures to prevent heat stroke in dogs & cats in the first place.

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