Heat stroke hazards!

Heat stroke can be fatal… Here’s how to protect your dog in summer.

Facts about heat stroke

Heat stroke is a form of hyperthermia (high temperature) in which the body temperature of the dog is elevated dramatically. It is a veterinary emergency and can be fatal if not promptly and properly treated. Do not neglect it. Take it seriously.
Dogs do not tolerate high environmental temperatures because they do not perspire like humans. They want to cool down and exchange warm air for cool air (convection). But when air temperature is close or high to body temperature, cooling by panting and convection is not an efficient process. As compared to humans, the temperature of the dog increases quickly for their inability to disseminate heat when environmental temperature is high, leading to sudden increase in rectal temperature. Summer months can really be a very hard time for dog.
Situations when a dog can have heat stroke

  • Dogs develop heat stroke easily when they are left knowingly or unknowingly in the parked car with or without partially opened window glasses during summer or rainy season.
  • Dogs can also develop heat stroke if they are made to exercise for longer time in the sun, without accessibility of water or those remain in the open sun during summer months.
  • Breeds of cold climate are prone to heat stroke during summer in our country.
  • Breeds like Bulldog, Pug, Pekingese and Boxer need to be protected during summers. Due to their pushed in face and short nose, they are vulnerable to heat stroke.
  • Dogs suffering from heart diseases, lung diseases, obesity or fits are also prone to heat stroke during inclement weather.

How to recognise that the dog has heat stroke

If the dog is showing some of the following signs, heat stroke can be suspected:

  • Very rapid short breathing with panting.
  • Rectal temperature is generally >104oF and may reach up to 110oF.
  • Intense red mucus membrane of the mouth and reddened tongue with pale gums.
  • Marked weakness, anxious look.
  • Increased salivation in the beginning followed by thick saliva.
  • Dry and warm skin.
  • Tachycardia (rapid and increased heart rate >160 for large breeds and >180 for small breeds).
  • Increased thirst.
  • Extreme dehydration (loss of skin elasticity) and shock.
  • Sometimes vomiting loose faeces with blood is also seen.
  • Some dogs may show seizure (fits) and may go into coma.
  • Severely affected dogs may suddenly collapse due to heart failure.

What to do as a first aid

  • If these signs have been observed in a dog in the open sunny place, immediately take him to cool place. If a facility of cooler/AC is available, it will ease the situation.
  • Dog showing rectal temperature >104oF needs rapid cooling. It can be done with pouring water on the head, mopping with a cloth soaked in cold water from head to tail, groin area and paws.
  • Increased aeration in the wet fur by spreading it with fingers.
  • If the dog is able to drink of his own, provide drinking water.
  • Take the dog to a qualified veterinarian as soon as possible.

What not to do

  • Do not leave wet towel in place as it will damp the fur and close air circulation.
  • Do not use ice cold water or ice. This may constrict the blood vessels of the skin and can further increase the heat, leading to shock.
  • Avoid strong hose/strong stream of water.
  • Do not force-feed dog cold water as it may harm him if it goes in the wind pipe.

Consequences/complications of heat stroke

If a dog with heat stroke is left untreated or improperly treated following complications may occur:

  • Dehydration (loss of skin elasticity, dry mouth, dry and tacky gums, thick and tenacious saliva, shrunken eyes and/or shock).
  • Kidney failure.
  • Spontaneous bleeding.
  • Heart failure.
  • Fits, nervous signs.
  • Death.

These symptoms may occur on the same day or 1-2 days after.

Hospital management

  • Aggressive fluid therapy with appropriate fluids. Sodium bi-carbonate is also given to combat metabolic acidosis.
  • Steroids and antipyretics.
  • Rapid cooling using cold water sponging from head to back to toes until temperature comes down to <104oF.
  • Monitor rectal temperature every 10-15 minutes.
  • Oxygen therapy to assist respiration.
  • Antibiotics to take care of infection, if any.
  • Intensive nursing care to keep dog comfortable through the treatment process.
  • Monitor multi-organ functions to assess damage to vital organs.

What to do in summer to prevent heat stroke

  • When dog comes from outdoor, give him a small quantity of water with or without electrolyte solution. Repeat as often as the dog wants to drink it.
  • Make fresh and cool water available all the time.
  • Take the dog for exercise early in the morning or in late evening during summer to avoid their exposure during hottest part of the day.
  • Dogs with heart disease, obesity, old age or breathing problems should be kept inside the house with proper cooling facility.
  • Never leave the dog in the parked car.
  • Do not take the dog to beach, concrete or asphalt areas during peak heat hours.
  • Give regular baths to keep the dog cool as needed.
  • Dogs should not be kept muzzled in heat.
  • Constantly monitor dog’s behaviour in summer. Any unusual behaviour should be brought to the notice of the veterinarian.
  • Never put your dog on the terrace or balcony, he is the member of your family and needs to live with you.

(Prof Dr JP Varshney, MVSc, PhD (Medicine), Retired Professor, is currently working as Senior Consultant (Medicine) at Nandini Veterinary Hospital, Surat).