As a veterinarian, I have seen my share of heatstroke cases. Many of these cases were from people leaving their pets in a hot car to run into the grocery store for “just a few minutes.” The other cases were in dogs who were chained outside in 100°+ weather and despite having plenty of shade and water available, they were simply overwhelmed by the heat. In this part of the southeast where we have very hot and humid weather, it simply doesn’t matter how much shade and water are available. Heatstroke can be deadly and often is.
Remember that parked cars are absolute death traps for pets during the hot summer months. Temperatures can rise rapidly to 140 degrees in a parked car on a sunny day. It only takes minutes, and it doesn’t matter if the windows are cracked.
Dog such as Chows and Collies and black-coated dogs are more susceptible to the heat as well as brachycephalic breeds (the short nosed breeds such as pugs, English Bulldogs, Boxers, etc.). The brachycephalic breeds have somewhat of a compromised respiratory system normally and are more susceptible to heatstroke. Another animal that is very susceptible to heatstroke is rabbits. Rabbits left in outdoor hutches in the hot summer often succumb to heatstroke.
Symptoms of heatstroke in pets
Symptoms of heatstroke are difficulty in breathing or rapid panting, disorientation, a staring or anxious expression, a high body temperature, a rapid heartbeat, dry mucous membranes, bright red mucous membranes, thick saliva, vomiting, and collapse. Unless you are outside and actively observing your dog, these signs often go unnoticed.
What to do in case of a heatstroke
If an animal exhibits signs of heatstroke, immerse the animal in cool water or wet the animal down with a garden hose. Apply an ice pack to the head and seek prompt treatment from a veterinarian immediately. In dogs where heatstroke is not treated promptly, the animal will usually collapse and vomit and often develop bloody diarrhea. Coma and death are often the outcome.
I saw a few cases of heatstroke in dogs where I had no idea how high their body temperatures actually were. Our mercury thermometers went up to 106 degrees (the average temperature of a dog is around 101.5°- 102°). The mercury would rise to the end of the thermometer (to 106°) as soon as it was inserted into the dog’s rectum.
Heatstroke is a serious emergency condition. Prevention is always best.