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Heatstroke occurs when normal body mechanisms cannot keep the body's temperature in a safe range. Animals do not have efficient cooling systems (like humans who sweat) and get overheated easily. A dog with moderate heatstroke (body temperature from 104º to 106ºF) can recover within an hour if given prompt first aid and veterinary care (normal body temperature is 100-102.5°F). Severe heatstroke (body temperature over 106ºF) can be deadly and immediate veterinary assistance is needed.
What you should do
Remove the dog from the hot area immediately. Prior to taking him to your veterinarian, lower his temperature by wetting him thoroughly with cool water (for very small dogs, use lukewarm water), then increase air movement around him with a fan. CAUTION: Using very cold water can actually be counterproductive. Cooling too quickly and especially allowing his body temperature to become too low can cause other life-threatening medical conditions. The rectal temperature should be checked every 5 minutes. Once the body temperature is 103ºF, the cooling measures should be stopped and the dog should be dried thoroughly and covered so he does not continue to lose heat. Even if the dog appears to be recovering, take him to your veterinarian as soon as possible. He should still be examined since he may be dehydrated or have other complications.
Allow free access to water or a children's rehydrating solution if the dog can drink on his own. Do not try to force-feed cold water; the dog may inhale it or choke.
What your veterinarian will do
Your veterinarian will lower your dog's body temperature to a safe range (if you have not already) and continually monitor his temperature. Your dog will be given fluids, and possibly oxygen. He will be monitored for shock, respiratory distress, kidney failure, heart abnormalities, and other complications, and treated accordingly. Blood samples may be taken before and during the treatment. The clotting time of the blood will be monitored, since clotting problems are a common complication.
Dogs with moderate heatstroke often recover without complicating health problems. Severe heatstroke can cause organ damage that might need ongoing care such as a special diet prescribed by your veterinarian. Dogs who suffer from heatstroke once increase their risk for getting it again and steps must be taken to prevent it on hot, humid days.
Any pet that cannot cool himself off is at risk for heatstroke. Following these guidelines can help prevent serious problems.
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