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A deadly condition, how it happens and how to avoid it

What is heatstroke and how does it happen?

Heat stroke in animals occurs when there is a failure of heat dissipation to the environment and / or when there is an excess production of body heat. This results in a pet’s body temperature rapidly rising to such an extent that organ damage and even death may result. Certain animal related predispositions exist such as:

  • Brachycephalic (short snouted) breeds like Bull-dogs, Pugs, Boxers, Boerboels etc.
  • Well-muscled, excitable and active pets like Bull-terriers, Staffies, Boerboels
  • Pets with underlying heart and respiratory problems, overweight pets and those with a history of seizures 

Environmental factors such as a high relative humidity and warm temperatures, as well as a lack of moving air, shade and cool water, contribute towards putting all pets at risk of this avoidable condition.

What are the signs of heatstroke and what could happen if it is not addressed promptly?

If heat stroke is not promptly treated, various organs may begin to fail and there may be swelling on the brain, ultimately, it may lead to death or permanent organ damage. Signs of heat stroke include:

  • Body temperature above 40˚C
  • Disorientation / stumbling
  • Very dark, dry gums and tongue
  • Wide open “glassy” eyes
  • Sticky and frothy saliva
  • Heavy, exacerbated panting
  • Diarrhoea / vomiting (sometimes bloody)
  • Seizures / fits / muscle spasms / coma

Immediate action if your pet has heatstroke…

Immediate action is imperative as pets presented after 1.5hrs to a vet have a far higher mortality rate than those presented before 1.5hrs.

Take your pet to the nearest veterinarian as soon as possible. If you are unable to, or while driving to the vet, try to calm and cool your pet as follows:

  • Offer cool drinking water, shade and moving air by means of a fan. You could wet your pet’s mouth but do not force or squirt water into its mouth.
  • Using cool (NOT ice-cold) water to wet your pet. Wet towels may also be used but should be regularly replaced as they warm up and preferably should only be used to wet and cool the legs, face, ears and abdominal skin.
  • Consider placing your pet calmly in a cool (NOT ice-cold) pool or pond for a few minutes until body temperature starts decreasing. Spraying water by means of a sprinkler / hosepipe might also be considered.

Precautions and things to avoid

  • Always provide cool, clean drinking water
  • Always ensure that there is a cool, shady spot for your pet to find shelter
  • Try to keep daily temperature in mind when you walk / play with your pet
  • Consider using a sprinkler at very hot times of the day
  • Consider freezing water in balloons / zip-loc bags and using this ice for your pets on hot days.
  • Never leave your dog in the car unattended even if the windows are slightly open
  • If your pet has cardio-respiratory problems and struggles to breathe, please consider having your vet check if there is anything which could be done to help.

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