AHVEC North Hobart After Hours Veterinary Emergency Centre

Heat stroke

What is heat stroke?

Every year, thousands of dogs suffer from heat stroke, and unfortunately some do not survive. Heat stroke is not the same as having a ‘fever’; whereby other illnesses (usually an infection) cause the body temperature to rise above normal levels. Heat stroke occurs when the animals’ heatdissipating mechanisms cannot accommodate excessive heat and the body effectively begins to ‘melt’. It is caused by exposure to excessive ambient temperatures or failure of the body to cool itself efficiently.

In many cases owners are not aware that their dog is battling heat stroke until the condition is very advanced. Immediate emergency veterinary treatment is necessary to control the animals’ body temperature to try to prevent organ damage (which can ultimately lead to death). Therefore, early recognition of the signs of heat stroke by owners is critical to saving the animals’ life.

NOTE! Brachycephalic (short-nosed) dog breeds such as Boxers, Pugs & Bulldogs are at greater risk of heat stroke due to their physical characteristics, so their owners need to be especially aware of heat stress risks and symptoms.

How to help prevent heat stroke

  • Provide plenty of shade and fresh drinking water for your pets at all times!
  • Exercise your pets gently in the coolest part of the day, or not at all in very hot or humid weather. Keep pets inside in air conditioning on these days if possible;
  • ‘Mist’ your pet with a spray bottle or hose dogs down on hot days. Wetting the neck & groin area is especially helpful;
  • Use cool rather than iced water. If the water is too cold the blood vessels can constrict & are not able to lose heat as effectively. Use a fan to increase air flow;
  • Take special care of obese, elderly & very young animals as they will succumb to heat stress much more quickly;
  • Get creative! Most dogs love paddling pools, or there are cool vests you can buy like this one pictured.

The dangers of pets in hot cars

Veterinary professionals are appealing to motorists to realise the dangers of leaving animals, especially dogs, unattended in cars and on the back of ute trays this summer.

“Cars left stationary in warm weather become ovens and dogs can develop heat stroke and suffer a cruel death in only six minutes. Ute trays also become extremely hot so these dogs can suffer a similar fate.”

RSPCA NSW Chief Veterinarian Dr. Magdoline Awad

Some important facts regarding pets in hot cars:

  • The temperature inside a car can double in a matter of minutes;
  • A dog left in a car can die within as little as six minutes as dogs are not able to sweat to cool themselves;
  • A dog panting inside a car will raise the inside temperature even more quickly;
  • Leaving the window down or parking in the shade does little to stop the temperature rising in the car and is not acceptable!

Signs of heat stroke

  • Increased respiratory rate & heart rate
  • Dark red or pale gums
  • Rapid panting
  • Salivating (drooling)
  • Restlessness/Anxiety
  • ‘Drunk’ appearance
  • Lethargy/weakness
  • Muscle tremors/seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea - possibly with blood present
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Coma

What to do for your pet

Cooling your pet quickly is very important.

Wet their coat with cool (not ice cold) water and transport them to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible. Ensure the car is kept cool on the journey. Phone ahead if possible so the vet can prepare for your arrival and assist you. Severe hyperthermia can affect nearly every system in the body and can be fatal.