Heat Stroke: The Best Cure is Prevention

Today marks the beginning of summer and Campus Veterinary Clinic would like to take a minute to remind our Bay Area friends of the potential hazard created by the rise in temperature.

Photo Credit: Cedar Rapids Animal Control and Care
Photo Credit: Cedar Rapids Animal Control and Care

When discussing heat stroke, the best cure will always be prevention, and proper prevention begins with an accurate understanding of the effects of heat stroke and our beloved animal’s vulnerability to its detriment.

Heat stroke is a form of non-pyrogenic (non-fever) hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is the elevation of a dog’s body temperature above the normal range of 101 to 102 degrees. When a dog (with no previous sign of fever or illness) has a body temperature that increases from 103 to 105 in response to excessive external heat, it is called “heat exhaustion.”

When a dog’s temperature reaches 106 degrees or above it is officially called a “heat stroke.”

Heat stroke occurs when a dog’s heat-dissipating mechanism cannot release the extra heat that is absorbed. At that point, immediate emergency medical treatment is necessary to prevent organ damage and death. The critical temperature where multiple organ failure and impending death occurs is around 107 to 109 degrees.

It is important to remember that dogs cannot control their body temperature by sweating as humans do. Dogs have only a relatively small number of sweat glands that are located in the foot-pads and on the tip of their nose – their primary way of regulating body temperature is by panting. To make matters worse, dogs are not able to adjust clothing and take off their “coats” like humans.

Internal Risk Factors
Internal Risk Factors

In addition to higher temperatures causing a greater chance of heat stroke, there are also other external risk factors to take note of:

• Lack of shade
• Lack of water
• Poor ventilation
• Relative humidity (Even when the weather affords a cooler temperature, a high humidity level can still pose risk for heat stroke.)

As stated earlier in this post, the best cure for heat stroke is prevention. The following is a list of helpful reminders that Campus Veterinary Clinic advocates in order to spread the idea of responsible pet ownership and personal accountability. Common sense can go a long way in keeping your four-legged family member happy, healthy, and out of the harmful reaches of a heat stroke’s grasp.

a. This first tip should go without saying, but sadly, it is still atop our list: never leave a pet in an unattended car during the day.

b. If you have to leave your pup outside for any length of time, secure the area by ensuring that your animal has multiple points of access to fresh, clean water.

Photo Credit: Cedar Rapids Animal Control and Care
Photo Credit: Cedar Rapids Animal Control and Care

c. Create shade if there is none. The importance of shade should not be underestimated; it is equally vital to promoting heat loss and cooling as it is in protecting your animal from direct and prolonged exposure to the hot sun.

d. For outdoor events consider applying this vet-recommended animal sunscreen by Epi-Pet. This product can be applied generously on a dog’s most sensitive areas (belly, ears, nose), but is also good for pets with white & light hair, pets with pink skin, short and thin coat pets, hairless breeds, working dogs, and pets with allergic or inflamed skin.

e. Acknowledge the increased thirst, and monitor where your dog attempts to quench it. Keep them away from street puddles and unclean water.

f. Recognize the physical cues in order to avoid overexertion: Excessive panting. Staring. Anxious Expressions. Refusal to obey commands. Warm, dry skin. High fever. Rapid heartbeat. Vomiting. Collapse.

Photo Credit: northjerseyblog.com
Photo Credit: northjerseyblog.com

Heatstroke is a medical emergency. You must act quickly and calmly.  Have someone call a veterinarian immediately. In the meantime, lower the animal’s body temperature by applying towels soaked in cool water to the hairless areas of the body. Often the pet will respond after only a few minutes of cooling, only to falter again with his temperature soaring back up or falling to well below what is normal. With this in mind, remember that it is imperative to get the animal to a veterinarian immediately. Once your pet is in the veterinarian’s care, treatment may include further cooling techniques, intravenous fluid therapy to counter shock, or medication to prevent or reverse brain damage.

If you suspect your pet has fallen victim to heat stroke contact Campus Veterinary Clinic immediately for emergency services.