Heatstroke (hyperthermia) is the elevation of the body’s temperature and is a life-threatening condition requiring immediate treatment. Dogs left in hot cars, pets exposed to extreme heat when left outdoors, lack of adequate shade or being exercised in hot weather can all lead to heatstroke. Heatstroke is most common in dogs, especially “brachycephalic” breeds (those with short muzzles eg. Bulldogs, Pugs etc).
Other predisposing factors can be diseases of the pet’s airways or obesity. Your veterinarian will look into the underlying cause once your pet is stabilised.
Initially, your pet will appear distressed, they will pant excessively and become restless. As the situation becomes worse and the body temperature increases they may drool copious volumes of saliva and become unsteady on their feet. You may notice your pet's gums become a bluish-purple or bright red colour. This is due to the inadequate oxygen supply to the tissues.
Cool your pet on the way to the vet by using a fan or air-conditioning to maintain airflow over the body. You can also use a spray bottle to lightly cool them with water. This initial home treatment greatly increases the chance of surviving. Warning - do not submerge your pet in ice-cold water, this can have detrimental effects on your pet's recovery.
Seek veterinary attention for your pet immediately as intensive care is generally required to save your pet’s life. It is only in mild cases that the initial home cooling is adequate treatment.
On arriving at the veterinary hospital your veterinarian will assess your pet and determine the treatment required. The more severe the case, the more intensive care will be required.
Intravenous fluids are needed in heatstroke cases. The Intravenous fluids cool the body, maintain blood pressure, support the kidney system and generally help speed recovery.
Your pet’s airway will need to be maintained and excess saliva kept clear from the mouth at all times. Oxygen may be required. At times sedation is needed to allow safe, effective ventilation
Your veterinarian will closely monitor your pet. This generally involves observing changes in body temperature, blood tests and urine examinations to assess the extent of damage and their progression.
There are a few steps you can take to help prevent heatstroke. These include:
Although most commonly seen in dogs, all animals can be affected by heatstroke.
If you think your pet is in distress, phone your veterinarian immediately for advice. Your quick actions could save your pet’s life.
Your pet’s body may feel burning hot and, as the body temperature continues to climb the animal will collapse, become comatose and, if veterinary treatment is not sought immediately, may soon die.
If your dog is a water lover purchase a children’s plastic pool and half fill it with water. This becomes an additional water bowl and they can also play, splash, dig, lie down and have loads of fun in it!