Dogs and cats do not cope with heat as well as people. This is because they are unable to dress to suit hot weather since they have their fur coat permanently attached. In addition, and more importantly, they cannot sweat to cool themselves as people do.
Panting is used by animals in place of our sweating, and relies on the exchange of cool outside air for warmed body air. If the outside air is not cooler, then panting is less effective. In addition, any animal with respiratory compromise is not able to exchange air effectively, and cannot cool efficiently.
Heat stress varies widely in severity and can develop within only a few hours to cause severe, life threatening illness.
Once the body temperature is above 42 degrees Celcius, internal organ damage is occurring, which in some cases is irreversible. This can include damage to vital organs such as the kidneys, liver and heart.
If your pet has been admitted to hospital for treatment of heat stress/stroke, this treatment will involve several phases over the next 12 – 72 hrs. Initial treatment is to reduce the internal body temperature – this is done quickly with cold water and fans until the temperature is less than 40 degrees C, then slower cooling will
continue until the body temperature is normal. In addition, animals in respiratory distress will receive the necessary support for them to breathe normally, and will be given intravenous fluids to combat dehydration.
The next stage of treatment is to assess the level of damage to internal organs that is immediately detectable – this may involve blood testing, assessment of urine production and monitoring of vital signs. It is also possible that organ damage can develop over the next 3 days after the overheating episode – if this is likely to have occurred, then your pet may be hospitalized for several days, and have repeated blood tests, urine tests and careful monitoring of blood pressure and other vital signs.
Only once your pet is deemed to be out of danger will he/she be discharged home.
Written by Dr Caitlin Logan