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Heat Stroke

Amanda Esposito, DVM

Over the summer months, we see an increased incidence of heat stroke in pets. Heat stroke, or heat exhaustion, is a dangerous condition that occurs when an animal is exposed to excessive heat without the ability to properly expel it. Dogs do not sweat through their skin as humans do, instead they release heat by panting and through sweat glands on their paw pads and noses.

Heat stroke requires immediate medical treatment. In severe cases, animals may require several days of hospitalization, monitoring, and intensive care. Prolonged hyperthermia (temperatures greater than 104°F) can lead to multiple organ dysfunction, seizures, shock, and even death.
There are certain risk factors for pets developing heat stroke. Brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs, Boston terriers, French and English bulldogs are more predisposed to heat stroke, due to their short noses and small nasal openings. Additional risk factors include obesity, heart and lung disease, dehydration, thick or dark hair coat, and very young and old age.

Tips to prevent heat stroke:

* Ensure that pets have access to water and air conditioning or shade.
* Avoid overexertion and limit exercise on hot or humid days.
* Never leave your pet in a parked car without air conditioning.
* Always provide access to fresh water.
* Walk/exercise pets in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler.
* Do not muzzle your dog, as it will not allow them to pant.
* Always monitor for signs of heat stroke, such as heavy panting, difficulty or deep breathing, excessive thirst, incoordination, profuse salivation and vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, seizure or loss of consciousness. Early recognition of these signs is critical.

If you suspect that your dog is experiencing heat stroke, immediately move your pet to shade or air conditioning. You can spray or soak your pet with cool water, but do not use ice-cold water. Offer small amounts of cool water to drink. Seek veterinary medical attention as soon as possible.

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