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Heat Stroke Is Deadly to Dogs


Pet Column for the week of July 28, 2014

Related information:

Related site - Emergency and Critical Care at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital

[black dog outside]
On hot days, and even on warm days, pets should never be left in a car.

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Sarah Netherton
Information Specialist

Illinois may be having an unusually cool summer this year, but that does not mean pet owners can dismiss summertime heat risks for pets. Dr. Maureen McMichael, a veterinarian who specializes in emergency medicine and critical care at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, explains that heat stroke is a potentially damaging or deadly risk when an animal overheats, whether from being left in a hot car or from too much sun or exercise.

Dr. McMichael’s recommendations for keeping animals cool when the weather is warm include not forcing a pet to exercise in the heat and always providing access to shade and plenty of water to drink for animals that are outdoors during the day.

Another important rule: Never leave an animal in a car, even just for a few minutes. The most common cause of heat stroke is leaving a pet in a hot car with little ventilation.

“Ten minutes is all it takes for the interior of a car to get up to 100 F, even with the windows cracked,” advises Dr. McMichael, “and it can reach up to 130 F in twenty minutes. On hot days, and even on warm days, pets should never be left in a car.”

Heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia, occurs when the core body temperature increases and cannot be brought down by the body’s heat-regulating mechanisms. Unlike people, dogs do not control their body temperature by sweating. Instead, they regulate their body temperature by panting.

Signs an owner can watch for that can indicate heat stroke include: excessive panting, increased salivation, weakness, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, and dizziness. Animals will often try to cool off if possible (e.g., in a stream).

If heat stroke is suspected, it is important to try to lower the animal’s body temperature and get the pet to a veterinarian, because heat stroke is a serious medical emergency. Owners should try to cool the pet with cool (but not cold) water and wet towels and should allow the animal to drink it is if able.

Dr. McMichael explains that veterinarians use cooling water, fans, cool intravenous fluids, gastric protectants, and medications to bring the core body temperature of the pet down safely.

“Heat stroke can cause severe damage to an animal’s organs, especially the bone marrow and liver,” says Dr. McMichael. “It can lead to death, even with treatment.”

The prognosis of the pet depends on how high the animal’s body temperature reached and the health of the pet before the heat stroke. An otherwise healthy pet before the heat stroke may make a full recovery if its body temperature didn’t drastically increase. If an animal doesn’t receive treatment in a timely manner or if the core body temperature increases too much, heat stroke can lead to organ damage and death of the pet.

Fortunately, preventing heat stroke is easy with common sense. To keep a pet safe in the warm and sunny summer months, never leave the pet in a warm car, provide plenty of water and shade, and do not exercise pets—especially flat-faced pets such as Persian cats, boxers, pugs, etc.—in the heat.

For more information about heat stroke in pets, contact your veterinarian.