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Heat Stroke in Pets, Also Known at Hyperthermia

Overheated dog sitting in a bucket of water

Published on: May 31, 2019

As the summer months draw close, heat stroke becomes an important medical concern, especially in the Midsouth area where temperatures easily climb above 90°F on a regular basis. Heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia, can be a life threatening concern, and can happen very quickly for our furry companions. A temperature above 105°F is considered an emergency situation for both dogs and cats, and can cause internal organ failure if not addressed quickly, so it is very important to keep your pets cool during warmer months. The main factors contributing to heatstroke include: animals left outside in hot/humid weather with inadequate shade and water, exercising in hot/humid weather, and leaving a pet in a car even on a relatively cool (70°F) day – a recent study from Stanford University Medical Center found a vehicle’s internal temperature may increase an average of 40 degrees warmer than the outside temperature within 1 hour, easily reaching a 110°F temperature within the car even on a mild day.

Signs of hyperthermia include panting, restlessness, progressing to excessive drooling from the nose or mouth, unsteadiness on feet, or the gums turning blue/purple or bright red in color indicating poor oxygenation. If you notice any of the above, bring the pet to a cool, shaded environment immediately. If you are able, obtain a rectal temperature as this is the only accurate way to measure temperatures in animals. If the pet has an elevated temperature above 105°F, begin cooling their body by placing cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, armpits, and between their legs. You may also wet their ear flaps and paws with cool water. Be careful not to overcool the pet, as the goal is to get the temperature down around 102.5°F-103°F. Also do not attempt to force water down his or her mouth, however, have cool water available if the pet is alert and interested in drinking. Transport the pet as soon as possible to your nearest veterinary facility for further care. As stated above, hyperthermia affects internal organs as well, so even if you are able to cool the pet down, the pet should be assessed by a veterinarian immediately to stabilize and provide further care.

Gfeller, Roger DVM DACVECC, Michael Thomas, DVM, Isaac Mayo. “Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke): First Aid.” Veterinary Partner, VIN  31 Dec. 1994. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/doc/?id=4951333&pid=19239.