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Heat Stroke

Heat stroke in dogs can quickly turn deadly if not treated immediately and aggressively. Successful treatment requires intensive emergency care at a veterinary clinic. The therapeutic goals are to lower the dog's core body temperature to a normal range and to identify and resolve the underlying cause of the condition. This may be as simple as removing the dog from the source of excessive environmental heat, but this is not always easy to do. Most affected dogs will require inpatient hospitalization and intensive care for at least several days, until their temperature and clinical signs are stabilized. Again, early recognition is the key to treatment success.

Treating Heat Stroke: What Owners Can Do

There are certain things that owners of dogs suspected of suffering from heat stroke can do to enhance their dogs' chances of survival. First, owners should contact their veterinarian or the closest emergency veterinary clinic and alert them to the situation and their anticipated arrival time. If you can speak with a veterinarian, ask what steps you should take before and while you are transporting your animal to the hospital. If you cannot actually talk to a veterinarian or veterinary technician who can give you sound advice, common nursing care protocols involve spraying the dog with cool water or immersing it in cool water; using convection cooling with fans or cooling pads; and using evaporative cooling with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol on the foot pads, under the front armpits (axilla) and on the groin or flank areas. Dogs should not be immersed in ice or ice-cold water. Cooling a hyperthermic dog too quickly can cause its blood vessels to restrict (peripheral vasoconstriction), which can impede heat dissipation. It is also wise to monitor the dog's rectal temperature regularly, and stop these cooling procedures once its temperature decreases to 103 F.

Treating Heat Stroke: What Veterinarians Can Do

Once an affected dog reaches the hospital, the veterinary team will take appropriate steps to try to safely bring the dog's core body temperature into a normal range and resolve the hyperthermia. Room temperature intravenous fluid and electrolyte therapy may be used at shock rates depending upon the dog's clinical condition. Oxygen supplementation may be used as well, either through a mask, a cage or a nasal catheter. Activity will be restricted and normally the dog will not be fed until it is medically stable. There are no specific medications to "treat" heat stroke. However, there are medications to help manage many of the complications associated with of heat stroke, which your veterinarian can discuss with you. Patients should be closely monitored around the clock during the first day or two of the cooling down process.
The prognosis for dogs that have heat stroke are highly variable and can be good to guarded to grave, depending primarily upon how quickly the condition was caught and treated.

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