During the dog days of summer, the temperatures can be uncomfortable for two legged and four legged friends alike. While humans have multiple ways to cool off it can be harder for dogs. Canines do not have the ability to sweat throughout their body to cool down. Panting is their best way of regulating temperature. Heat stroke or heat exhaustion are both terms used for hyperthermia or elevated body temperature.
The symptoms can vary widely depending on how high the body temperature is and the patient’s other concurrent health issues. Symptoms may include:
- Elevated respiratory rate and/or panting
- Rapid heart rate
- Gums may be dry, sticky, dark red in color, with possible bruising.
- Not urinating
- Shaking, shivering or muscle tremors
A rectal temperature provides most accurate reading. A dog’s normal temperature ranges between 100 to 103°F. A thorough history and questions regarding the pet’s recent environmental situation can help determine if the high body temperature is due to fever brought on by infection or other internal causes vs hyperthermia from external sources. Critical temperatures of 107-109 °F or above can lead to organ failure and death.
Dogs are not able to sweat over their entire body like humans. They have a small number of sweat glands in their foot pads. Applying alcohol or cool water to their foot pads can help reduce temperature due to evaporation. Utilize cool wash clothes on the pet’s head, stomach, groin, and armpits. Do not use cold water or ice packs. Cold restricts blood flow to the skin. The goal is to cool the blood and circulate it back through the body. Also, a drastic temperature drop can cause shock. Change the wash clothes frequently. Providing airflow, such as a fan, across their body will aid in evaporation. It is important to take their temperature frequently. A rectal temperature is the most accurate. Stop cooling when it reaches 103 or they may go into hypothermia.
In severe cases, hospitalization may be required for supportive care such as IV fluids and oxygen therapy. Medications can be given to control seizures. Your veterinarian may want to run blood work to assess the damage to the organs as prolonged hyperthermia can cause organ failure.
Patients who have suffered from hyperthermia are at greater risk for heat stroke due to damage to the thermoregulatory center. These patients should be carefully monitored in situations that could cause hyperthermia.
Hyperthermia is a condition that can be easily prevented by following reasonable standards of pet care.
- When possible, keep pet indoors in air conditioning.
- Provide adequate shade (with ventilation) if pets need to be left outside.
- Always have water available.
- Never leave pets in vehicles; temperatures rise quickly.
- Exercise in morning or evening when outdoor temperatures are cooler.
- Patients with heart disease, obesity, or Brachycephalic breeds are at greater risk.
If your pet is exhibiting symptoms of hyperthermia, record their body temperature and take action to reduce it if elevated. Contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary service for further instruction.