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In this lesson, we'll be covering hyperthermia or heat stroke in your pet, including the signs and symptoms and how you should handle this condition should it arise. At the end of the lesson, we'll dig a little deeper into the dangers of heat exhaustion; and we'll explain the difference between that and heat stroke.

Heat stroke, or hyperthermia, is caused by an extreme elevation in body temperature and occurs when your pet has suffered an inability to cool herself. It's also a severe life-threatening condition that can lead to organ damage and dysfunction.

A classic example of heat stroke is when a dog is locked inside a vehicle on a day when the ambient, or room, temperature can easily exceed 120°F even on a pleasant 75°F day. Dogs playing outside in the heat who tend to overexert themselves is another cause of heat stroke; in particular, dogs who suffer from the inability to pant effectively – like those with short snouts, such as pugs or bulldogs. This can also happen in older dogs who have laryngeal problems.

Pro Tip #1: In case you're not an English teacher or a physician, let's quickly explain the difference between hyper and hypo. Hyper is a prefix that means excess or exaggeration, while hypo is a prefix that means under or beneath. Both hyper and hypo are usually used as prefixes, which are elements or partial words added to the beginning of a base word to modify its meaning.

Signs and Symptoms of Heat Stroke

It's so important that you're able to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat stroke. Doing so might mean the difference between your pet surviving a heat related emergency or succumbing to one.

Pro Tip #2: The problem is that many of the signs and symptoms we've covered in this course are very similar for a number of conditions, including heat stroke. Therefore, context is vital. What was your pet doing before the problem began? What was the environment like? And so on. You may need to put your Scooby Doo hat on … though if you own a large dog and live in Phoenix, AZ, your Spidey senses should always be tingling during the summer, and maybe even fall and spring.

Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Persistent panting
  • Body temperature above 105°F

Warning: If you measure your pet's rectal temperature and discover that it's 105°F or greater, this is an early sign of heat stroke, and you'll need to begin cooling your pet down immediately.

What to do if You Suspect Your Pet Has Heat Stroke

If you suspect heat stroke, begin cooling your pet down immediately however you can. Do you have a hose outside with cold running water? How about a bathtub with the same? Also, a good idea is to wrap your pet in a large wet towel. And finally, you'll want to transport your pet to the vet as soon as possible, preferably still wrapped in that cool, wet towel.

Cats can also develop heat stroke, though it's far less common. The signs and symptoms will be the same, as will the treatment you can provide while getting him to the vet.

A Word About Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the precursor to heatstroke and is a direct result of the body overheating. When heat exhaustion is not addressed, heatstroke can follow.

For Cara Armour and one of her pups, heat exhaustion came on suddenly and out of the blue, and on a breezy 70°F morning. During an early morning walk, one of Cara's dogs, Debbie, began throwing up a lot of water and the treats she had recently eaten. Then her breathing became shallow, despite all the running around. This is when Cara knew something was wrong.

She began checking those vital signs we preach so often, then began to investigate possible causes as she and her husband carried Debbie back to the car. The moral of the story is pretty simple: how fast normal can change to not. And how you should always be prepared to deal with an emergency.

If you'd like to read the entire story, check out Cara's article for the ProPetHero blog: What's Up Wednesday – Heat Exhaustion.