Posts Tagged ‘hyperthermia’

Heat Stroke in Pets

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Heat stroke is the common term for hyperthermia, or elevated body temperature. In pets, a body temperature higher than 103°F (39.4°C) is considered hyperthermic. Elevated body temperature becomes life-threatening when it reaches 109°F (42.7°C).  In dogs, body temperature is regulated primarily by panting. Dogs have only a small number of sweat glands in their footpads, so they cannot perspire to cool off.

The most common cause of heat stroke in cats and dogs is leaving a pet in a car without adequate ventilation. Never leave any animal in a parked vehicle in warm weather, no matter how briefly. The inside temperature can skyrocket to a dangerous level in a few short minutes, even with the windows cracked open. The pet’s temperature can rise rapidly and lead to collapse, often within minutes.

Heat stroke in pets can also result from leaving a pet in a yard on a hot day without access to shade or water, and excessive or vigorous exercise when it is hot. Too much excitement or exercise can put a dog at risk even when the temperature or humidity does not seem extreme. Flat-faced dogs (Pugs, Boxers, and Bulldogs) are at greater risk because of their narrow, short airways. Muzzled dogs may not be able to pant freely.

Any infection that causes a fever can lead to hyperthermia. Seizures or severe muscle spasms can also increase body temperature.

Heat stroke in a cat or dog is an emergency that required safe, controlled reduction of body temperature. Cool water or cold cloths may be placed on the head, stomach, underarms and feet. Rubbing alcohol may be applied to the footpads. Ice may be placed around the mouth and anus. The dog’s rectal temperature should be monitored, and treatment stopped when the rectal temperature decreases to 103°F (39.4°C).

Most otherwise healthy pets can recover from heat stroke if their body temperature did not become extremely high. The prognosis depends on how high the pet’s temperature climbed, how long it lasted, and the physical condition of the pet before the heat exposure.


Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD
and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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