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Heat Stroke

 written by:  Nikki Sereda, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM

Yes even in Alberta pets can experience heat stroke! Heat stroke is cause by a high body temperature. It is a life threatening emergency and requires immediate veterinary treatment. Heat stroke is primarily seen in dogs but can occur in cats as well. A dog's normal body temperature is approximately 38.5 degrees celsius. Heat stroke can occur when the body temperature begins to rise above 40 degrees celsius.

When a dog becomes hot they are unable to sweat as effectively as people can to cool off. Dogs are able to sweat a small amount through their footpads, however this is a very minor component of their cooling abilities. Instead a dog relies on panting to cool off and reduce their body temperature. If a dog is in a hot or humid environment even panting will not be sufficicient to reduce their body temperature.

The classic scenario for heat stroke is a dog that has been left in a hot vehicle without adequate ventilation. It does not necessarily need to be very hot for this to occur. Even at temperatures as low as 21 degrees celsius a car's internal temperature can increase by as much as 20 degrees celsius within an hour. In fact, 80% of the temperature rise occurs within the first half hour! Additional scenarios that can result in heat stroke include:

Certain conditions can predispose an animal to heat stroke. Dogs that have a short nose or flat face are considered brachycephalic, these breeds can have difficulty breathing and cooling effectively. Brachycephalic dog breeds include Pugs, Bulldogs, and Pekinese dogs. Additionally, dogs with respiratory or heart disease that interferes with normal breathing may have more difficluty. Finally, dogs that are obese can also be predisposed to develop heat stroke.

Dog with heat strokeSigns of heat stroke include excessive panting and salivation. Some dogs act restless. The tongue and mucous membranes (or gums) are often bright red. Other signs can include diarrhea, vomiting, weakness or collapse, and can progress to seizures and multi-organ failure.

Early detection and rapid treatment are very important for the outcome of the patient. If you are concerned that your pet may be experiencing heat stroke, immediate veterinary care is recommended. In the meantime you may consider the following steps:

It is important to seek veterinary care even if you are unsure if your pet is experiencing heat stroke or if you think they may have but you have effectively cooled them to a normal body temperature. Complications such as organ failure can develop even after your pet's body temperature has returned to normal.

Have a great, safe summer! Enjoy the heat and stay cool!




Guardian Veterinary Centre
5620 99 Street NW
Edmonton AB  T6E 1V2

Phone: 780-436-5880
Fax: 780-436-6222