Hyperthermia

What is hyperthermia in dogs?

Hyperthermia means a high temperature and occurs when dogs are no longer able to self-regulate and keep their temperature at the normal level. A fever is another way the temperature can be increased, but this is when the dog’s body increases its temperature to try and fight off infection or as a response to inflammation. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the two apart.

 
What causes hyperthermia?

True hyperthermia can be caused by exercise, being somewhere hot, an inability to pant (the main way dogs get rid of heat as they can only sweat through the pads on their feet), certain drugs and poisons or some medical conditions.

A fever can be due to many things, including an infection. Sometimes it is not possible to find the underlying cause of a fever before your dog gets better. While this can be frustrating, we are always pleased to have happy healthy pets around.

It is very important that the body is kept at the right temperature because it is has become highly specialised over the years to work within a certain narrow range. If the temperature gets too high, and stays there for too long, things start to “break”. This can lead to multi-organ failure, and may be fatal. A slight increase in temperature can be tolerated well and we often see slight increases when your dog visits the vet simply because your dog is likely to be stressed when visiting us, and if they’re lively and bouncing around it is unlikely to cause much concern. This happens in a similar way to the increase with exercise.

 
What signs will I see?
  • Panting, sometimes with a rasping noise associated with it
  • Sweaty feet
  • Trying to find somewhere cool to lie
  • Frog-leg position (this is your dog trying to get the bare skin on their tummy in contact with the cool floor)
  • Dark pink or red gums
  • High heart rate or pulse rate
  • Lethargy
  • Staggering around
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Your dog may feel warmer than usual when you touch them
 
Important things you might have seen/to tell the vet
  • Tremors – this uses muscles which produces heat
  • If your dog has been exercised right before this episode
  • If your dog has been somewhere warm – remember it can get hot in a car even when it isn’t that hot outside
  • Any drugs your dog is taking or any illnesses you already know about
  • If you have tried anything to cool your dog down already
 
How is it treated?

The vet will examine your dog fully, and decide on the best treatment options for your dog. Your vet will try and differentiate between a true hyperthermia and a fever as they are treated differently.

Possible treatment options include: cooling them with a fan or cool water, drugs to calm them down and starting them on intravenous fluids (a drip).

If your vet suspects your dog has a high temperature due to a fever then they can use drugs to try and help bring the temperature down along with other cooling measures if needed.

If your dog’s temperature is high enough they will be trying to get it down before multi-organ failure is reached as this can need prolonged periods of intensive care and may be fatal.

How can it be prevented?

Think about things that make you hot, and they will make your dog hot too. Dogs are less good at coping with the heat than people as they have a thick furry coat and can’t sweat through most of their skin to cool themselves down. In hot weather it is particularly important to make sure your dog has somewhere cool to lie. Some dogs like lying in the heat of the garden or a conservatory and it is important to make sure that they don’t do this for too long as they can overheat – some dogs won’t realise they have got too hot until it is too late!

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