Heat Stroke

Officially, the first day of summer arrives on June 21st. This should also be a reminder that hundreds of pets die each year from heat stroke. This condition usually occurs rapidly as a result of the body over heating and should always be considered an emergency situation. If treatment is not started early irreversible brain and organ damage, followed by death, will occur.

Symptoms of heat stroke include; panting excessively, rapid heart rate, bright red gums, sometimes vomiting or diarrhea and in extreme cases staggering, convulsions and death. As the core body temperature rises the pet tries to cool itself by evaporation through the respiratory system (panting). When this fails to adequately cool the body heat stroke begins. As the body temperature rises above 106 (normal temperature is between 101-102F) the organs begin to fail. Your pet may appear unable to move, may not recognize you and is struggling to breathe, often with its head pointed up in the air. As shock sets in, emboli may begin to form and further damage the internal organs, including the brain.

The diagnosis of heat stroke is made when the rectal thermometer is above 106, with a history of exposure and the symptoms described above. If you suspect your pet may be developing heat stroke the home treatment is to immerse the pet into cold water. The bathtub is a good place for this, as a hose does not contact enough of the body surface. If this does not stop the heat stroke symptoms within a short period of time then you need to quickly transfer your pet to the animal hospital. Intravenous treatment will drop the core body temperature faster than cooling the outside of the body. Medications to stabilize the blood vessels and stop infections from establishing themselves are usually needed. The full extent of any damage incurred may not be evident for several days after the temperature has returned to normal.

Connecticut state statute #53-247 of the penal code reads: …it is against the law to leave your dog in the car unaccompanied. Opening the window is not enough, as a car can reach high temperatures within minutes on a sunny day. As is the case with other emergencies, it is a good idea to have your veterinarians phone number readily available should the need arise. The emergency clinic is available for after hour’s emergencies.

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