Heat Stroke or Heat Prostration
The elevation of body temperature is above normal. It is sometimes indicative of a fever, but it can also be associated with severe conditions such as heat stroke or heat prostration.
Any time the body temperature is higher than 106 degrees F or 41 degrees C, a true emergency exists.
What to Do:
- Remove the pet from the environment where the hyperthermia occurred.
- Move the pet to the shade and direct a fan on the pet.
- If possible, determine rectal temperature and record.
- Begin to cool the body by wetting with cool (not cold) water on the trunk and legs. It is helpful to use rubbing alcohol on the skin of the stomach and allow the fan to speed up evaporation.
- Transport to a veterinary facility.
What NOT to Do:
- Do not use cold water or ice for cooling.
- Do not over-cool the pet.
- Do not attempt to force water orally.
- Do not leave the pet unattended for any length of time.
In the summertime, other than fever, the most frequent cause of hyperthermia is heat prostration or heat stroke. Most of these cases can be avoided by following the advice in the Preventing a Health and Safety Crisis section. Keep in mind that prolonged seizures, eclampsia (milk fever), poisonings, and many other conditions may cause hyperthermia.
Also, the brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds (Pekingese, Chinese Pug, Lhasa Apso, Boston Terrier, etc.) may suffer from ineffectual panter syndrome (see the difficulty breathing section), which results in an increased body temperature that can be fatal.
The most common sign of heat prostration or heat stroke is vigorous panting. The pet is likely to be lying on its side, unable to stand, although some are restless and agitated.
There may be a thick, ropy saliva in the mouth or froth coming from the mouth and/or nose. Often the pet seems to be rigid, extending its head, neck, and limbs. The mucous membranes are often red but may be pale or “muddy.” The pet may show signs of shock.
Rapidly cooling the pet is extremely important. While ice or cold water may seem logical, its use is not advised. Cooling the innermost structures of the body will actually be delayed, as ice or cold water will cause superficial blood vessels to shrink, effectively forming an insulating layer of tissue to hold the heat inside. Tap water is more suitable for effective cooling.
Severe hyperthermia is a disease that affects nearly every system in the body. Simply lowering the body temperature fails to address the potentially catastrophic events that often accompany this disorder. A pet suffering from hyperthermia should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.