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Heat Stroke - Medical Emergency!

Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency situation for your dog or cat, although certainly not as common in cats given their lifestyle. Dogs and cats can’t sweat like we can, so they have a much harder time controlling their body temperature when they are exposed to high temperatures. The only way they can cool down is to pant. Panting evaporates moisture from the tongue and the airways and this evaporation helps cool the animal. Panting is not very effective when it is hot and humid outside.

Most people have heard of pets that have become ill or died after being left in a parked car on a warm day. When the temperature rises outside, the temperature in a parked car can become very high in short order. A recent study done by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found that the temperature inside a car rises rapidly even if it is not very hot outside, but the sun is shining. Researchers measured the temperature inside a parked car when the temperature ranged from 70F to 96F outside. No matter what the temperature, a car parked in the sun had a temperature increase of about 40F within an hour, and the majority of this increase occurred in the first 30 minutes. When a dog is left inside a car and the windows are rolled up, the humidity inside the car becomes very high because of the panting that the dog is doing to try and stay cool. Soon, there is not any cooling arising from the panting and the dog may become frantic, trying to get out of the car, which further raises the body temperature. 

Did you know that your pet can suffer from heatstroke outside? Pets that are overweight, have heavy fur, or have short muzzles (Boston Terriers, Pugs, Himalayans, Persians) have a hard time when they get hot because they cannot cool themselves enough by panting. If your pets stay outdoors on hot days, make sure they have plenty of access to cool water and plenty of shade. If it is going to be brutally hot, try and make arrangements for your pets to stay in air-conditioned accommodations, even if it means paying a boarding kennel to keep your pet during the day.

When a pet gets too hot, the first symptom is excessive panting and stumbling. They often seek out water to lie in or drink. Sometimes they will simply collapse. If you are in your car or at a park, find the nearest veterinary hospital quickly. If you are at home, take your pet’s temperature with a rectal thermometer. If it is greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit, you need to start emergency cooling measures and call your veterinarian.

The best way to cool your pet quickly is to lay a sheet or cloth over your pet and wet the sheet with cool water. If you don’t have a sheet available, apply cool water directly to your pet’s body. Direct a fan right at your pet. This speeds the evaporation of the water, quickly cooling your pet. If you can help bring your pet’s temperature down to normal before driving to your veterinarian, your pet will have a better chance of recovery. You can also give him ice cubes to lick or chew if he is alert enough. 

Treatment for heat stroke is very complicated and usually very expensive. The quicker the pet is cooled to normal and the quicker treatment is begun, the better the chances for a full recovery. Damage to internal organs, especially the circulatory system, brain, and kidneys, often results from heat stroke. Prevention is absolutely the best medicine in these cases.

Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.

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