The Only Locally-Owned Emergency and Specialty Hospital in Minnesota

Heat Stroke and Illness in Pets

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If your pet is experiencing severe heat stress or a heat stroke (symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, difficulty breathing, collapse, or a high rectal temperature) – these are considered “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!

    • DO NOT try to cool down your pet with ice water. Instead, apply soaked towels to belly, armpits, and inner thighs.
    • It’s okay to turn air conditioning on in the car – but don’t blast it – as you transport pet to the vet.
    • You can offer your pet cool water, but if your pet is not interested or is vomiting, do not force them to drink.
    • If your pet is not showing severe symptoms, contact your veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital and they will be able to help determine the degree of heat stress your pet is experiencing and provide recommendations for the next course of action.

An unfortunately common summer emergency for dogs is heat stroke or stress. Heat stroke can be prevented!

Avoid bringing animals in the car on a warm or humid day. If an animal has to be outdoors, it is very important that he or she has water and shade available at all times. A dog should NOT run or be allowed to exercise excessively when it’s warm or humid, particularly if he or she is not used to the heat. Animals who are elderly are also susceptible to heat stroke. Dogs with squished faces (think Pugs, Bulldogs and Boxers), cannot breathe very well in heat and humidity and are therefore at high risk of heat stroke. Pets that have black fur or hair attract more heat than pets with light-colored coats. If your pet has an underlying illness like heart disease or breathing problems (such as laryngeal paralysis) he or she needs to be especially well-protected!

When does heat stroke occur? 
Fortunately, most pet owners know not to leave a pet in a car on a scorching hot day, but even cooler days can create a problem with little air flow in a car (see video). At AERC, most of the heat stroke cases we see are caused by people exercising their pets in warm weather. Generally speaking, you need to limit your dog’s activity outdoors when it’s warm or humid outside, because dogs do not know to limit themselves!

What are the signs of heat stroke?
Owners often notice vomiting, lethargy, collapse, trouble breathing, or a high rectal temperature (greater than 103F). Symptoms may occur immediately or take several hours to develop.

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What should I do if I think my dog has heat stroke?
If your pet MIGHT be experiencing heat stroke, it is extremely important to bring him to a veterinarian immediately! Do not soak your dog with extremely cold water. Cooling a dog too rapidly can be dangerous, too. You can, however, dampen his paws and coat with cool water, and offer some water if he is not vomiting.

What is the treatment for heat stroke?
First, a diagnosis of heat stroke is confirmed, usually with an examination and blood tests. Then, treatment with IV fluids and internal cooling of the patient can proceed. Damage to the organs like liver, kidneys, and brain are possible with untreated heat stroke. Unfortunately, blood clotting problems are extremely common and sometimes require blood transfusions. Often a patient will need to be monitored in the hospital for a couple of days, as not all damage from heat stroke is initially apparent.

If your pet is overheating or experiencing a heat stroke, contact your local animal emergency hospital right away. Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Oakdale and St. Paul ERs are both open 24/7, every day of the year.

Written by Abigail Albright, DVM.

More Reading:

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