Heat Stroke


By: Dr. Kelli Klein

Summer time in Charleston can be a lot of fun for your dog but it can also be dangerous.  I am sure most of you have seen on social media the warnings about how warm it gets in a car when the temperature reaches a certain point outside.  These warnings are very real and very serious.  In Charleston the temperature can change so quickly leading to some very uncomfortable and life threatening conditions.  I generally tell my clients if it is too uncomfortable for you to be spending a long time outside it is too uncomfortable for your pet who is used to being inside.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are very serious problems during this time of year.  Heat exhaustion occurs after a person or pet is exposed to high temperatures for a prolonged period of time. It can lead to water depletion and/or salt depletion (electrolyte abnormalities) which can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, weakness, and lethargy.  Heat exhaustion can rapidly progress to heat stroke which is a life threatening event.  When an animal suffers from heat stroke multiple organ systems (including the brain) can become affected.  Signs can progress rapidly from gastrointestinal upset to collapse, abnormal heart rhythms, bleeding abnormalities, seizures, sepsis, and even death.  Patients can develop kidney failure, liver failure, prolonged clotting factors (leading to an inability to clot blood), a drop in blood pressure, and swelling around the brain. 

Some breeds are more likely to suffer from heat stroke than others as they may not be as efficient in cooling themselves.  Pugs, French bulldogs, English bulldogs, etc are what are known as brachycephalic breeds.  Due to their anatomy (short and compressed face and airway system) they are not as efficient at cooling themselves when they pant.  They are also more prone to upper airway syndromes which may make it more difficult to circulate air well through their respiratory system.  Laryngeal paralysis is common in Labrador retrievers and can lead to a dog becoming overheated as they cannot cool themselves effectively when panting.  However, any dog that is put in a situation where it is too hot and they cannot cool themselves is at risk.  Common causes of heat stroke include being kept in a car, going for a run with his/her owner, chasing ball outside, or simply being left outside without appropriate ways to be kept cool. 

Dogs and cats should not be confined to the outdoors without appropriate protection from sun and heat.  This means plenty of water (in a bowl that will not accidentally be turned over) and shelter.  This shelter should be in a shady area in the yard.  It is not safe for a dog to be tethered as this gives them limited space to get out of the sun and heat.  If you are looking to take your dog for a long walk or run it is best to do this very early in the morning before the sun is out or late in the evening.  However, during the summer months in Charleston it sometimes does not get cool enough until it is dark outside.  If you are looking to take your dog on the boat or to the beach make sure that you bring along plenty of fresh water and still have a way for them to get in the shade.  Lastly, if on pavement remember that if it is too hot for you to comfortably stand on it is likely too uncomfortable for your pet.  If your pet does seem to be overheated remember to cool them off slowly.  Gently hose them down with cool (not cold) water or lay towels that have been soaked in cool water over them.  Place them in front of a fan and get them into the AC.  Most importantly, have them seen by a veterinarian right away.

Bottom line is during this time of year I recommend you enjoy spending time with your pets inside.  Enjoy outdoor activities during the spring and fall!