It is the direct result of thermal injury to the organs and systems within a dog’s body. Taking steps to avoid heatstroke is a priority for every pet parent.
In cases where organ failure has occurred, symptoms differ depending on what system has been damaged.
Animals left in extreme heat are at risk of life threatening heatstroke. Left untreated, heatstroke can lead to coma and death.
Heatstroke occurs most commonly in warm environmental conditions, and can be prevented when pet parents are aware of the danger and respond to early warning signs. Heatstroke is life-threatening, and warrants immediate medical attention.
Many factors contribute to heatstroke, but concern for it grows when:
Certain underlying conditions put a dog at higher risk for heatstroke. Pets should be monitored more closely during exercise, especially in hot and humid conditions.
Dogs who are unacclimated to the heat are also at increased risk, as are dogs who engage in physical activity beyond their fitness level. Golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers have been shown to be predisposed to heatstroke, although the cause is unknown.
Heatstroke is caused anytime a dog’s ability to get rid of body heat is outpaced by the environmental conditions. This can occur passively in hot environments, especially when the humidity is high (non-exertional heatstroke), or actively when the dog exercises (exertional heatstroke). Exertional heatstroke is more common during the summer, but can occur in cooler temperatures. Many occurrences of heatstroke result when dogs are left without adequate ventilation in hot vehicles.
Diagnosis begins with determining medical history and performing a physical examination, which includes a measurement of body temperature.
Possible tests include, but are not limited to:
Treatment is determined case by case based on the symptoms displayed. General treatment begins with first aid efforts by pet parents to wet down and cool the pet on the way to veterinary care. These are short term actions a pet owner should take while on the way to professional care:
Depending on the results of the diagnostic tests, other treatments may be added to the cooling efforts including:
Severe symptoms that don’t improve with cooling efforts and treatment for shock indicate a very poor prognosis.
Recovery is based on the severity of heat stroke, how the patient responds to treatment, and if there are secondary conditions or complications.
Heat stroke is not contagious. It is prevented by monitoring a pet for signs of heat exhaustion and taking corrective action before symptoms develop into a life threatening condition. Ensuring that dogs are always in well ventilated areas with access to shade and water can help prevent heat stroke.
Heat stroke is common, but can be prevented if pet owners are aware of how dangerous it can be and what steps can be taken to stop it.