Body temperature may be elevated because of an infection (fever), but it may also increase because of hot and/or humid conditions outside.  An increased body temperature caused by environmental conditions is commonly referred to as hyperthermia, heatstroke, and heat prostration. 

Hyperthermia may be a life-threatening condition, and does require immediate treatment.  A dog’s normal body temperature is 101.5°F plus or minus 1 degree Fahrenheit, and any time the body temperature is higher than 105°F, a true emergency exists.  Heatstroke generally occurs in hot summer weather when dogs are left with inadequate ventilation in hot vehicles.  However, heatstroke may also occur in other conditions, including:

  1. When an animal is left outdoors in hot/humid conditions without adequate shade.
  2. When exercised in hot/humid weather.  
  3. When left in a car on a relatively cool (70°F) day; a recent study from Stanford University Medical Center found the temperature within a vehicle may increase by an average of 40 degrees Fahrenheit within one (!) hour regardless of outside temperature. 

Other predisposing factors may be obesity and/or diseases affecting a pet’s airway.  Keep in mind that prolonged seizures, eclampsia (milk fever), poisonings, and many other conditions may cause hyperthermia.  Also, brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds (Pekingese, Pug, Lhasa apso, Boston terrier, Bulldogs, etc.) may suffer from ineffectual panting that results in an increased body temperature that may be fatal.

Initially the pet appears distressed, and will pant excessively and become restless.  As the hyperthermia progresses, the pet may drool large amounts of saliva from the nose and/or mouth.  The pet may become unsteady on his feet.  You may notice the gums turning blue/purple or bright red in color, which is due to inadequate oxygen.

What to Do

What NOT to Do 

Rapidly cooling the pet is extremely important. Cold tap water is suitable.

dog in hot weather

What Happens:

When a pet cannot coo him or herself, their internal temperatures rise. This results is dilation of vessels and leakage of  these vessels. The leakage reduces the fluid from the circulatory system and makes your animal companion have low blood pressure and unable to provide organs with nutrients normally available from proper circulation. Organs can begin to shut down and the gastroinestinal tract suffers from poor circulatory perfusion as well as vessel dilation that lets gut bacteria move into the blood stream.

Additionally, as the body senses leaky vessels, it send products to try and ‘plug’ the leaks. This ends up consuming products needed for normal clotting and you pet may become deficient in clotting factors.

All this is to say, that beyond cooling your pet, once heat stroke starts, a number of potentially catastrophic things follow. So, if you pet is a victim of heat stroke, do more than begin the cooling process. Bring your pet to a veterinary hospital so he or she can be evaluated and treated appropriately.

Severe hyperthermia is a disease that affects nearly every system in the body. Simply lowering the body temperature fails to address the potentially catastrophic events that often accompany this disorder. A pet suffering from hyperthermia should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

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