Jack’s Chats – August Edition: Heat Stroke in Pets

By August 23, 2022 Uncategorized

Hello everyone and welcome to our first blog, Jack’s Chats, here at Blue Cross Animal Hospital! Here, we will be posting monthly with info and veterinary advice for our pet parents.  If you have any burning questions and would like to suggest a future blog topic, feel free to email us! If you would like a photo of your pet to be featured on the blog or on our social media, you can email that in as well with your pet’s first and last name and let us know you would like them posted.

Now let’s jump into our August blog topic: Heat Stroke in Pets!

With regular summer heat being compounded by recent extreme heat waves, keeping our pets cool needs to be a top priority in this season. Heat-related illness (or heat stroke) refers to hyperthermia, or elevated body temperature. Any body temperature exceeding 103°F (39.4°C) is considered hyperthermic, and heat stroke symptoms usually occur at temperatures over 106°F (41°C). The critical temperature range in which organ failure and mortality occur is approximately 107-109°F (41.2-42.7°C). Heat stroke is a serious illness and should be avoided at all costs as it can have lasting physiological effects on your furry family members.

Heat stroke happens due to an inability to properly thermoregulate in hot conditions. While us humans sweat to lower our body temperatures (I’m sure we’ve all been doing a lot of this in the last 2 months!), dogs primarily do this by panting. The “big bad” that comes to everyone’s mind when we’re talking about hot dogs is hot cars. While of course hot cars are a common source of heat stroke, they are not the only one. Even just walking your dog in the heat with no opportunity to cool down can trigger heat-related illness. Some dogs are more pre-disposed to heat stroke than others depending on various factors. Pure breeds, larger breeds, and thick-coated (especially dark-coloured) breeds tend to be more vulnerable to heat stroke. Short-snouted (“brachycephalic”) dogs also have higher risk of heat stroke compared to other breeds as their breathing is impaired, therefore so is their ability to lose heat via panting. Frenchie owners beware – that squishy face is adorable but needs to be kept cool!

One of the most important questions about heat stroke that we need to answer is what to look for if you suspect your pet is suffering from heat-related illness. The following are common symptoms to look for:

  • Excessive panting or trouble breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive thirst
  • Glazed Eyes
  • Dry, sticky, bruised, or discoloured gums
  • Deep red or purple tongue
  • Vomiting
  • Disorientation
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

If your pet is experiencing one or more of these and is at risk of heat stroke, seek veterinary care immediately. In the meantime before you can reach a vet, reducing your pet’s body temperature in a safe, gradual manner is critical. You can do this by applying COOL (not cold) water to your pet’s head, abdomen, armpits, and paws by either pouring water directly on these areas or by placing cool, damp cloths on them.  Use of freezing cold material like ice packs is only safe in short bouts, and can be applied behind the head or on the groin area briefly. Once your pet reaches the vet, they may be given intravenous fluids, mild sedation, and/or oxygen therapy until their temperature and condition stabilizes.

The prognosis for pets who suffer heat-related illness varies with each case depending on the severity and duration of the hyperthermic condition. In mild cases where the body temperature was only slightly elevated and reduced quickly, most pets recover smoothly with immediate treatment. In more severe cases, organ damage and even death can occur.

Here at Blue Cross, we believe in preventive medicine and try to pass this philosophy onto our pet parents as well. The best-case scenario for pets in warm conditions is regulating body temperature before heat stroke can occur. Even if your pet has one mild case of heat stroke and bounces back quickly, this leaves their thermoregulatory system more vulnerable to heat stroke in the future. This is one reason why prevention is preferred over treatment. You can prevent heat-related illness in your pets by keeping them hydrated in a climate-controlled environment, and never leaving them unattended in the heat. If heat stroke symptoms arise, the best thing you can do for your furry friends is get them to a vet ASAP.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns regarding your pet, we encourage you to reach out to the clinic via phone or email.

Enjoy the rest of the summer Blue Cross Pack!


Sources/Additional Reading

[1] Heat Stroke In Dogs. Blue Cross Animal Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario. (2009). Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://bcahkitchener.com/pet-health-resources/pet-health-articles/

[2] Hall, E.J., Carter, A.J. & O’Neill, D.G. Incidence and risk factors for heat-related illness (heatstroke) in UK dogs under primary veterinary care in 2016. Sci Rep 10, 9128 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-66015-8

[3] Williams, K., & Ward, E. (n.d.). Heat stroke in dogs. vca_canada_corporate. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://vcacanada.com/know-your-pet/heat-stroke-in-dogs

[4] Keep Pets Safe in the Heat. The Humane Society of the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/keep-pets-safe-heat