A heat stroke is not the kind of stroke we know about as humans. The human stroke has elements that differentiate it from a heat stroke in animals. Rather, a heat stroke, in my opinion, is a loss of the ability to dispel heat, which leads to hyperthermia.

It must be clarified that this does not mean, however, that this disease is not potentially fatal. In most veterinary textbooks, it is defined as temperatures that reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 39-40 degrees Centigrade) or even higher. At this point, it resembles a very high fever which is also classified as a form of hyperthermia, but of the non-pyrogenic nature. That statement only means that the rise in temperature was not induced by anything that remotely resembles an Dogsinfection, whether it be viral or bacterial in nature.

Furthermore, the “brain thermostat” known to us as the hypothalamic set-point was not altered in any way; therefore, it may not be called a “fever” in the strictest sense of the word. However, the devastating effects of the extreme rise in temperature gives rise to a series of potentially life-threatening consequences like brain swelling or cerebral edema and respiratory shock, as well as multi-systemic organ failure as its immediate sequelae or worst-case scenario of likely events should heat stroke afflict any dog.


It would be the height of carelessness if a pet owner ignores the telltale signs of respiratory embarrassment or respiratory malfunction, or of seizures that remain unheeded. The cardiovascular system is always affected once there is arrhythmia (loss of heart rate and rhythm) as well as when so-called “peripheral shunting” happens. In other words, the ratio of air perfusing or permeating the lungs does insufficient diffusion, or no oxygenation is found in the lungs despite the presence of blood.

Once this medical crisis happens, the dog might succumb to shock, a medical term that refers to the inadequacy of the circulatory system to distribute oxygen and nutrients to various vital organs, resulting in death due to the aforementioned failure or “shunting.”

The clinicians’ emergency may be compounded when heat stroke is not part of the “essential rule-outs” or differential diagnoses. Thus the so-called “clinical eye” brought about by long years of dedicated experience is an invaluable advantage. Never treat your dogs at home. Bring them to a qualified veterinary medical health provider.

I must underline that diagnostic acumen is not the only deciding factor but also the swiftness of proper emergency medical care may be the one deciding factor in bringing about a reversal of hyperthermia. The veterinarian must recognize it early on. Immediate and appropriate medical intervention to correct the problem must be decisive.


The veterinarian must insist on the patient being hospitalized; it must never be sent home until the condition may be pronounced as manageable or stable. In fact, patients must be put on intensive care for several days before we veterinarians can safely declare the patient as being stable enough for discharge.

It is at this point that I have to insist to my clients that the dog remain within medical care and scrutiny as well as supervision to avoid potentially fatal as well as emotional vexations that can ruin the veteriary-client-patient relationship (emphasis mine).

There are no specific drugs that serve as “magic pills” to immediately cure heat stroke. I have to tell my clients to rush your pet dogs to a veterinary hospital.


This disease is uncommon in cats and to this day I have not treated a cat for heat stroke. But this statement is merely one of likelihood and does not exclude its possibility.

Let me address the question that always nags us veterinarians about which breed is more vulnerable to heat stroke. Let me be categorically clear in that heat stroke may happen to any breed of dog. But, it is common among long- haired animals as well as short-snouted (brachycephalic) breeds.

The patient has to be monitored for the following: cardiac dysrhythmias (heart rate and rhythm irregularities), coma, seizures, and gastrointestinal issues as well as sudden heart stoppage, as previously pointed out.

Recovery is dependent largely in the elimination of factors that cause heat stroke. Even if heat stroke is not primarily a disease induced by infectious organisms, damage to the “brain thermostat” may occur so that the dog that has had heat stroke may become predisposed to further heat strokes.


Owners are advised never to leave any dog inside their cars while parked outdoors, especially in the Philippines, or putting their dogs inside areas with poor ventilation or excessive humidity, as well as very warm surroundings without taking into account their breed, place of origin as a breed as well the transfer of dogs to places of unsuitable climatic conditions. (Additional text & research by CFB)


This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s September 2017 issue.