Fortunately, heat stroke, also referred to as “hyperthermia,” is usually fairly easy to diagnose. Most dogs suffering from this condition will be taken to a veterinarian with a recent history of excessive panting, lethargy, weakness and/or collapse. The veterinarian will quickly take the dog’s rectal temperature, which in the case of heat stroke will be markedly elevated. This, together with the ambient outdoor temperature and the owner’s account of the dog’s recent activities, usually will be enough to make a definitive diagnosis of heat stroke.
The dog’s presenting condition and its recent history of confinement, exertion or other exposure to high temperature extremes will strongly suggest that it is suffering from heat stroke. Nonetheless, the veterinarian still will conduct a quick but thorough physical examination, usually including a short neurological examination to assess the dog’s coordination and mental status. Sadly, dogs that have deteriorated to the point of being confused, disoriented, lethargic and recumbent, where they are lying down listlessly and are not able to get up, have a much worse prognosis than those that don’t have signs of neurological damage at the time they are brought to the veterinary hospital. Most veterinarians will take blood samples and submit them to a laboratory for a complete blood count (CBC) and a serum chemistry panel. The results of those routine blood tests will be abnormal in several areas in animals suffering from heat stroke.
Owners should take extra care in hot, humid weather to make sure that their dogs and other pets have access to fresh water, an air-conditioned environment and/or lots of shade. Fortunately, if heat stroke is caught early, it is relatively easy to diagnose and treat.