ALL CREATURES ANIMAL CLINIC, LTD.
Mark Hale, DVM
Summertime is often thought of as "fun in the sun" or a time for swimming, boating, and vacations. However, it is also a time for an all-too-common disaster for our pets known as heatstroke. Many a well-intentioned owner has left their pet in the car for "just a minute" when the temperature outside was only 70 degrees, unaware that on a 70 degree day the temperature inside a car can quickly reach 120 degrees. As temperature and humidity rise, this situation dramatically worsens.
Unlike humans, cats and dogs have sweat glands only on their paws and between their toes. They mostly rely on panting to regulate their body temperature. Pets at greater risk include brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekingese, and Persians, as well as overweight pets or those that are very young or very old.
Pets with heatstroke can exhibit many different symptoms such as: bright red or pale gray gums, rapid panting, weakness, sticky drool, vomiting, diarrhea, staggering or stumbling, shock, or seizures. As these are also signs of other ailments, the pet's history is important for determining if heatstroke is likely. Normal rectal temperatures should not exceed 102.5 degrees. Immediate emergency treatment is vital if temperatures exceed 104 degrees.
If you suspect your pet is suffering from heatstroke, you should begin treating immediately and seek medical attention. Cooling your pet can be done with wet towels on the stomach and groin, or by using cool water. Do NOT use extremely cold water or ice. Along with continuing the cool water baths, your veterinarian will, if needed, also administer IV fluids and drugs used for shock. Bloodwork to determine the extent of organ damage, such as kidney or liver, may also be monitored. Once a rectal temperature of 103 degrees or below is reached, cooling should be discontinued and hospitalization and monitoring started. Other common sequela after heatstroke can include DIC (a clotting disorder) or acute kidney failure.
Chances of a full recovery depend on a number of factors, including how high the body temperature reached, promptness of treatment, and previous health status. Knowing and recognizing the signs and then providing appropriate treatment quickly can greatly improve the chance of a complete recovery.
The key to avoiding heatstroke is always prevention. NEVER leave your pets unattended in a car. ALWAYS provide your pets with shelter from the heat and plenty of fresh, easily accessible water.