The Real Deal, a Breakdown of Heatstroke in Dogs
posted: Jul. 24, 2020.
On a 90-degree day, the temperature inside a car can rise to a minimum of 124 degrees in 30 minutes. Now imagine having a fur coat on, and the inability to sweat to regulate your temperature. Sounds awful? That is what your dog goes through.
Dogs are not like humans in a way that they cannot sweat. Mainly relying on their respiratory tract to disperse heat. When thinking about which dogs are able to handle heat better, think about the nasal surface area. Breeds such as German Shepherds, Greyhounds, and Labs are more efficient in dispersing heat. In contrast, “smush face” dogs like Shih-Tzus, bulldogs, and pugs overheat much easier due to their shorter nasal passages.
While the room temperature starts to rise and gets closer to the core body temperature, dogs use panting as a very important tool for cooling themselves. However, when the humidity in the room also rises panting does not work near as well to regulate their body temperature.
The normal body temperature for dogs is within the range of 100.5 – 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Heatstroke is a state of extreme hyperthermia with body temperatures reaching upwards of 106-109 degrees, which results in damage to body tissues.
When heat stress begins to set in, the heart rate increases blood flow in hopes to disperse heat on the body’s surface. With the blood vessels expanding, it causes the core blood pressure to drop. With the decreased blood pressure and loss of fluid due to panting the dog is unable to regulate their temperature and so their body temperature will continue to rise.
Body temperatures above 109 degrees will cause multi-organ failure, due to the decreased blood flow and supply of oxygen to the body.
Circulatory System –
With increased core temperature, damage to the blood vessels lining initiates clotting to try and repair the vessels. Due to the extensive cell damage in multiple organs simultaneously the clotting factors face high demand throughout the body. This can lead to the body trying to clot and bleed at the same time. Blood loss and a decrease in clotting abilities lead to a much higher mortality rate.
High core temperature damages the lining of the kidneys. There is also decreased blood flow and the formation of micro clots. The production of toxins in other damaged tissues, along with these factors can not only damage the kidneys but can cause renal failure.
The damage caused to the liver tissue is like the damage caused to the kidney- decreased blood flow, micro-clotting, and heat damage. In a majority of patients that present with heat stroke, we find an elevation of their liver enzymes. Often due to the increased use of glucose in patients suffering from heatstroke hypoglycemia occurs. Unfortunately, hypoglycemia is often associated with a higher mortality rate.
The damage to the GI Tract not only includes decreased blood flow, and well as micro-clotting, and heat damage. The damage also results in blood loss via vomit and diarrhea, as well as gastric ulceration, even potential shedding of the tract lining itself.
The shedding of the GI tract lining is serious due to the fact that the lining is an important barrier from the bacteria inside the gut. When the barrier is damaged these bacteria can leak into the blood system and cause systemic infection.
Dogs who are suffering from heatstroke often are mildly disoriented with muscle tremors, seizures, or in some cases coma.
Nervous System damages happen when there is a lack of blood flow to the cerebral cells in the nervous system.
You just got back to your car after running some errands, you see your dog unconscious, labored breathing and he’s hot to the touch. What should you do?
First, don’t apply ice. The abrupt change in body temperature can do more harm than good.
Second. If you have access to room temperature water, you can apply that.
Third. Turn on your AC and get to the closest veterinarian.
Applying rubbing alcohol to the paw pads, ears as well as belly can help disperse the body heat.
The death rate from heatstroke is 50%, and gradually climbs with each moment wasted. Aggressive IV Therapy, body cooling, O2 therapy, circulatory support, and close monitoring will happen upon arrival. It is to be expected for your pet to be hospitalized for at least 24 hours, if they are to survive, with no absolute guarantee.
This is a harsh article; we hope that if you are able to bring anything away from this it is: DO NOT EVER LEAVE YOUR CHILD (HUMAN OR PET) IN THE CAR. On average, 40 children and thousands of pets die every year from being left alone in the heat. It’s devastating because if there is one absolutely avoidable and preventable type of death, it is this one.
There are hundreds of things a day that you cannot control, but what you can control is this. You cannot protect your loved ones from the heat if you are not there. They are safer at home than they are waiting in the car for you to finish grocery shopping.