Heatstroke is deadly. Owners can improve the outcome significantly when treatment is started even before you get to your veterinarian. Start cooling your pet by spraying with tepid water, offer oral water, drape damp towels over their body, and turn on the AC/roll down the windows as you drive to your veterinarian. Do not use ice- ice causes vasoconstriction and does not allow the heat to be released from the body efficiently.
Signs of heatstroke include heavy breathing, lethargy or collapse, bright red mucus membranes, salivation, vomit, diarrhea, and can occur when the body temperature is greater than 104°F (normal temperature is typically 100-102°F). Heatstroke is more common in warmer humid weather conditions. All dogs are susceptible, however, dogs with short muzzles/brachycephalic dogs are especially sensitive to heat. Athletic dogs are not immune. They must be monitored very closely and allowed to rest and cool regularly on hot days. Dogs left in cars even for even a few minutes on a warm day with the window cracked cannot release the increasing internal body heat that builds properly.
The take home message is to be aware of the environmental conditions (heat, direct sun, air circulation, and humidity) and your dog’s tolerance to heat. If any clinical signs or distress are noted, start the cooling process at home and continue efforts while in route to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will do a physical exam and measure body temperature immediately then add additional supportive care measures such as IV fluids, antibiotics, further cooling, and blood pressure support as needed. Multi-organ failure can result very quickly. Your immediate attention and cooling efforts may help save your dog’s life.