Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition all Australian dog owners should know about.
Heatstroke is a state of hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperature), a condition in which the body loses the ability to cool down after being exposed to extreme heat.
Dogs eliminate heat by panting and by way of sweat glands in their paw pads, however once a dog is unable to self-regulate, their temperature rises, and their life is threatened.
Causes of Heat Stroke
Exertional / Environmental
Hot weather, especially humid environments;
Leaving a dog in a hot car;
Dog left outside without shade or water;
Excessive exercise/activity on hot days;
Walking on hot roads;
Inside rooms without cooling systems; and
Lack of acclimatisation to hot environments.
Biological / Medical
Large breeds greater than 15kg body weight, e.g. Labradors, Retrievers, Bull dogs;
Poor physical fitness;
Exaggerated physical features; Brachycephalic breeds (flat faced), Bull dogs, Pugs; short limbs; excessive skin wrinkling;
Medical conditions: respiratory; general illness; seizures; dehydration; and
Puppies / Elderly Dogs
Being aware of what causes heat stroke, provides you with the necessary guidance on how to prevent it.
Some ideas to think about:
Have multiple water bowls in place in case a bowl is tipped over;
Ensure your backyard has shade available regardless of the time of day;
Consider a paddling pool like those half shell pools;
Give your dog electrolytes as directed on the packaging or recommended by your Vet; and
Leave your dog inside with the fan or air conditioner running at 23/24ºC
A dog who suffers heat stroke is at risk of many lifelong health conditions, such as, but not limited to, damage to their:
In the immediate, however, if heat stroke is not managed urgently a dog may face multiple organ failure followed by death.
Learning how to manage this condition will improve your dog’s chances of survival and continued wellbeing.
Signs & Symptoms
Some of the signs and symptoms which your dog may begin to display are:
Dog will begin to pant excessively
Paws will be hot to the touch
May have become agitated and aggressive
Experiencing anxiety, distress and disorientation
Gums appear dark red, dry and tacky to the touch
Rapid heart rate:
§ Puppy and Small dog over 160bpm
§ Medium and Large dog over 100bpm
Rectal temperature over 39.2 °C
If not treated immediately, dog will go into cardiac arrest
1. Undertake Primary Assessment DRSABC
a. Check for Dangers – a danger may be that the dog has become aggressive (warning: never put a muzzle on a dog who has breathing difficulties)
b. Is your dog responding to your voice or your touch? If not your dog may be unconscious
c. Send for help; if there is someone else in the house get them to do things like get the heat stress or first aid kit, help carry dog into house, prepare the car and call the Vet. They may also be able to help you restrain your dog
d. Check the airway for vomit in the mouth, remove if there is
e. Check the breathing (respirations) feel / watch the rise and fall of the chest – start artificial respiration if not breathing
f. Check circulation (pulse) – start CPR if no pulse
2. Calm your dog; talk in a soothing way
3. Move your dog into the shade or indoors
4. Check dogs temperature - normal temperature is between 38.5°C and 39.2°C: use a lubricated rectal thermometer inserted into dog’s rectum up to 2.5cm for up to 1 minute (or until result registers); record temperature for vet
5. If your dog’s temperature is above normal, you must get your dog’s temperature down immediately; run cool (NOT ICE COLD) water over your dog’s entire body; place a towel or sheet over the dog and wet while on the dog to help with the cooling process
6. Make sure you have airflow over the dog; use a fan or air-conditioner
7. Monitor temperature every 5 minutes
Warning: do not over-cool your dog as you risk hypothermia. Cease cooling at 39.2 °C.
8. Treat for shock, elevate dogs rear end, even whilst in the car, keep warm, monitor breathing and heart rate
9. Offer your dog a bowl of water to drink
10. Get to vet
If you have a driver:
11. Continue the cooling process if dog’s temperature is still high; use a spray bottle of water or keep wet sheet or towel on the pet
12. If your dog stops breathing, begin artificial respiration on the way to the vet surgery
13. If your dog’s heart stops beating, begin CPR on the way to the vets
Pathophysiology of heat stroke in Dogs (2017 Bruchim Y, Horowitz M, Aroch I)
Canine Emergency First Aid Guide
Joanne Bibby - Fursafe