Heatstroke – First Aid advise in Pets
Heatstroke is a syndrome of cellular damage caused by an increased body temperature: usually > 42°C.
Heatstroke happens (and can be fatal) when the heat production overwhelms the thermoregulation of the body.
The degree of injury on the body depends on 2 factors:
- The magnitude of temperature
- The duration of body temperature elevation
Which body systems are affected by heatstroke?
Almost all systems of the body can be affected by heatstroke:
Kidneys: the kidneys are the first affected organs, causing an acute renal failure which can be very quickly fatal.
The intestines (gastrointestinal tract) are exquisitely sensitive to heat stroke, causing vomiting and diarrhea. Direct thermal injury damages the gastrointestinal barrier leading to bacterial translocation also called sepsis or septicemia.
The liver, as well as the intestines, is very sensitive to direct thermal injury. Liver dysfunction results in loss of protein, depletion of coagulation factors and hypoglycemia.
Central nervous system injury (cerebral edema) occurs and can cause major complications such as: seizures, coma, respiratory arrest or even cardiac arrest.
The cardiovascular system (heart and vessels) is very commonly affected by heatstroke, but signs may appear later.
Heatstroke damages the muscles (heartmuscle included) of the body especially if it is the result of excessive exertion (seizures, excessive exercise). The damaging of the muscles produce lactic acid and worsen acidosis.
What are the main clinical signs of heatstroke?
- The patient is often excited and hyperactive
- Increased body temperature
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Shock can develop as heatstroke syndrome progresses
- Loss of conscious or seizure can appear
What is the treatment for heatstroke? Heatstroke is a medical emergency, and the treatment has to be early, Aggressive and pro-active.
EARLY The pet owner should initiate cooling measures before and during transportation to the vet. Effective cooling measures include:
– Wetting the patient with cool water
– Enhancing evaporation by providing air movement around the patient
– AVOID ice water and cold water as both are uncomfortable for the patient, results in cutaneous vasoconstriction and loss of heat dissipation.
AGGRESSIVE and PRO-ACTIVE (intensive care) Upon arrival at the hospital:
– Cooling procedures should be continued if the rectal temperature is > 40C or discontinued if the body temperature is < 40C to protect from hypothermia.
– The patient should be given supplemental oxygen
– Intravenous (IV) fluid therapy if often required but that must be determined case by case, and depending on the aggressiveness of the fluid therapy one or two catheters can be implanted.
– Blood is collected for hematology, biochemistry, and electrolytes, and if needed urine can be collected for urine analysis
– Hypoglycemia should be corrected whenever present.
– Injectable steroids are administered to prevent cerebral edema.
– Antibiotics are administered to prevent from bacterial translocation and other medicines given to protect the stomach and intestines (e.g. gastro-protectants, anti-acids).
– Heart is closely monitored
– Intravascular disorders (e.g. disseminated intravascular coagulation) are prevented by heparin injections.
– The neurologic system is monitored by the medical team and seizures treated if present.
Prognosis ? Patients usually recover within 1 to 5 days depending on the severity of the syndrome. Non-survivors often die the initial 36 hours of treatment.
More information on what to do to prevent your Pet from heatstroke? read our Beat the Heat Blog