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Heatstroke

Heatstroke is one of the genuine emergencies affecting pets during hot weather. It occurs when heat generation exceeds the body’s ability to dissipate (lose) heat. The impact can be catastrophic: the body loses its ability to dissipate heat leading to multiple organ failure, brain damage and death.

Temperatures over 30°C are high risk, and from the mid-30s, the ability of dogs to cool down is impaired, especially those with thick coats. Inside a car, the ambient temperatures required to cause heatstroke are much lower. One study showed even on a mild day of 22°C, the temperature inside a car can rise to over 47°C in 60 minutes. 

One of the most useful things you can do on hot days is to monitor the behaviour of your pets. We all know dogs love to please, whether by walking and playing with their owners or working livestock – and they will continue regardless of the temperature.

Heatstroke is preventable

Follow these hot weather safety tips to keep your pets and working dogs cool and safe:

  • Don’t leave your pet unattended in the car – even on mild days, internal vehicle temperatures can skyrocket rapidly
  • Always ensure dogs have a constant supply of fresh water available, especially when they are working
  • Don’t over-exercise or work dogs strenuously in the heat, and avoid tight muzzling of working dogs in hot weather
  • If confined, make sure your dog has good shade cover and airflow, and avoid tying up or confining on hot surfaces such as concrete 
  • Be aware that dogs and cats with thick coats are more susceptible to heat, as are overweight or ageing pets, those with cardiac or respiratory disease, and brachycephalic (flat-nosed) breeds of dogs and cats such as pugs, bulldogs and Persians.
  • Don’t ignore small pets such as guinea pigs, rabbits and birds. They are also highly susceptible to heat stress and they’re usually confined in cages or hutches. Make sure you’re prepared for hot weather: move cages into cool, shady, well-ventilated areas – into a cool room if necessary – and have fresh water available at all times.

Symptoms

  • Dogs can’t sweat like us, they cool down by panting – excessive, heavy panting is one of the first signs of heatstroke
  • Mucous membranes inside the mouth become bright red to purple
  • As the dog’s body temperature increases, vomiting and diarrhoea may start
  • Restlessness progresses to signs of exhaustion and confusion, and the affected dog will stagger and lose balance
  • Muscle tremors and seizures can occur
  • At this stage the effects of heatstroke progress rapidly – the dog will collapse, become comatose, with death following quite quickly.

Treatment

HEATSTROKE IS AN EMERGENCY AND REQUIRES IMMEDIATE ACTION.

Never delay seeking veterinary attention and always ring first to say you’re on the way so our staff can be prepared and waiting.

  • At home, immediately remove the dog from the heat and, if possible without wasting precious time, spray the pet with cold water while ringing us to say you’re on the way. If the dog is not yet vomiting, offer fresh water.
  • At the veterinary hospital, the pet is immediately put onto an I/V drip with treatment to counteract the brain swelling that occurs during over-heating.
  • We continue to cool the dog while constantly monitoring body temperature – it’s important not to cause an equally severe drop in temperature during the cooling process.


For more information, click here to view the excellent poster on heat stress developed by the Faculty of Veterinary Science at Murdoch University.