In our previous Staff Chat, we started discussing the early signs of heatstroke – what might be considered heat exhaustion. In this chat, we’re going to go a step further, and discuss what can happen if the early signs are not recognized, and your dog continues to be unable to control its own body temperature.
Warning: what will be described below can be alarming to read. Heatstroke is not gentle, and it can be fatal. Knowing what to look for, how quickly it can happen, and the steps to take should it occur, are vital to your dog’s continued health.
If your dog continues to be in an environment that exposes them to excessive heat, they will begin to show signs of shock. Visual indications will include mucous membranes (the gums and inner cheeks) that are pale – the gums themselves may appear white or blue, instead of the bright red that they were during the early stages. Your dog will start hyperventilating, and its pupils will dilate. They may have muscle tremors, become lethargic, and be unwilling to move. Uncontrollable urination and/or defecation may occur, and they may collapse and become comatose.
Time is now of the essence – in addition to everything described above, heat stroke will start damaging the dog’s internal organs and cause them to fail. The steps described in our previous Staff Chat still apply – get them out of the sun, and use cool or tepid water (or towels soaked in cool water) to cool their body. However, it is now imperative that you contact us, or an emergency clinic if you can get there in less time. Let us, or them, know that you have a dog suffering from heatstroke and that you are on your way. Have the air conditioner running as coldly as possible as you drive. The sooner the cooling process is started, the better the chances your dog has for a full recovery.
What will we, or another veterinarian, do when a dog is placed in our care for heatstroke? First, as always, a good clinical evaluation is necessary to determine the proper steps to take. Body temperature, respiratory rate, pulse, and visual indicators – all play an important role in the treatment plan.
In addition to cooling them externally, we most likely will start intravenous fluids to treat shock and dehydration and to internally cool the body. If there are breathing difficulties, airway intubation and oxygen will be used to assist them. A blood test will be performed, to assess the internal body functions and organ conditions – this test will point us to further treatments such as antibiotics, along with anti-nausea, pain relief, or cardiac medications.
The quicker heatstroke is recognized, and the quicker corrective action is taken, the better the chances are that the steps we take will be effective in returning your dog to normalcy. As we enter another central Ohio summer, be aware of the signs of heat stress and heat stroke, be on the lookout for them, and take the appropriate steps to ensure that you and your furry friend continue to have a long and healthy life together.
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