Last May we discussed the dangers of heat stroke. It’s likely that you have already seen numerous photos on Facebook being shared warning of the risk of leaving your pet (or child!) unattended in your car now that the temperature is heating up and summer is almost here. So do you remember the reasons why it is not recommended to leave a pet in a car, even with the windows cracked open?

Heat Stroke: Let’s review what you need to know.

Heat stroke is a term used for an elevated body temperature. In dogs and cats, an abnormally high temperature is greater than 103°F. Elevations in body temperature can be related to systemic illness, stress, or external/environmental sources. When the body temperature gets above 106°F, and there were no signs of prior illness, it is usually as a result of exposure to external/environmental heat, and is called heat stroke. If the temperature gets high enough (107°F to 109°F), then the body’s organs will shut down and death will occur.

For dogs (and really any pet you have!), heat stroke usually occurs as a result of leaving them in a car with cracked or closed windows. Body temperature can increase within a matter of minutes. There are other ways as well; leaving your dog in a yard with no shade or water on a hot day, leaving them exposed to a hair dryer after grooming for too long, or taking them on walks/runs during excessively hot temperatures. Any dog is at risk for heat stroke, but dogs that are brachycephalic (the squished-face breeds such as boxers, pugs, Boston terriers, bulldogs, etc) are at an even higher risk due to their restricted airways.

We’re human. Mistakes happen. So let’s say you are worried your pet may be suffering from heat stroke…what do you do?

I cannot stress enough that heat stroke is an emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention. The body temperature must be cooled, but it must be done in a safe, controlled manner and performed by veterinary professionals where monitoring of the body temperature during cooling can be performed. Prior to transportation you can apply cool cloths or cool water (not cold!) on the head, stomach, and feet; getting them to the veterinarian as soon as you suspect something is wrong is very important. IV fluid therapy and other treatments may also need to be started once at the veterinary hospital.

Will my pet be ok?

How your pet does after going through heat stroke depends on a few factors, including how high the body temperature became, how long the elevated temperature lasted, and how healthy your pet was prior to having heat stroke. If the temperature did not get very high, and your pet was healthy, and was seen quickly, in most cases the pet will recover uneventfully. However, there is a possibility in some pets for permanent organ damage and death.

In summary: please do not leave your pets in a car unattended for any amount of time in warm/hot weather, even if your windows are open! Avoid exercising your pets during the hottest parts of the day, and make sure water is available at all times. Heat stroke is preventable! If you are concerned that your pet may be suffering from heat stroke, please have them seen by your veterinarian immediately.