Heat Stroke - Stilwell got TOO hot

Summers are tough for dogs who don’t do well in the heat, and Stilwell is a great example of this. Way back in the summer of 2014, Stilwell was hanging out at home on a hot, summer day, and his owners came home to find him in severe respiratory distress. He was panting hard, laying on his side, and not really responding when they were talking to him – so they rushed him to our practice. They were not a client yet, and we were at a point where we were still in the midst of our initial renovations, but the hospital was pretty well finished and functional, thank goodness!


I vividly remember this day – it was way back in the early days, when it was just one of us on at a time. It was my day, so I was there when they ran in the front door carrying their bulldog in their arms as he was in distress and started seizuring, and they came in like a bat out of hell yelling for help! We grabbed him and immediately rushed him down to the surgery room with oxygen to try to assess the situation – one of the very first things we did was take a temperature, and his was too high to register - >109 – this is really bad. They can have brain damage, seizures, or stroke like symptoms over 105 – so >109 is panic territory! Thank goodness they lived close!


Our team jumped into action to help him – we got a catheter in and started a big bolus of fluids, while draping him with cool towels, applying alcohol to his ears and feet, and running a fan on him. I also gave him valium to help with the seizures, and we waited while holding our breaths for his temperature to start to come down. As soon as he was no longer seizuring, I went to talk to his parents about the severity of his condition.


Heat stroke is no joke – it can happen fast, and can be really scary and deadly. Stilwell had been at home many times on hot, humid days. Unfortunately, whatever was different about this day led to him not being able to handle the heat, and his body got overwhelmed. I’m sure you have all seen those videos of people in hot cars showing that it can get over 90 degrees in 15-20 minutes or less, even on a day that is not that hot outside! And with Stilwell, he is a bulldog – so with their short snouts, and squatty builds, they are not exactly meant to handle the heat. So they are going to be even more susceptible to heat stroke or getting overwhelmed and it leading to a breakdown.

Luckily for Stilwell, he responded amazing to our supportive care – within 10 minutes his temperature had dropped to close to 105 degrees, and he was starting to become more aware of his surroundings. We kept him on IVFs and support for a few hours until his temperature was normal, and then discussed transfer to Quakertown Veterinary hospital for overnight monitoring to ensure he continued to improve, and his owner ok’d the transfer.


The next 12 hours were scary while they monitored to ensure he was normal, and as the valium wore off to make sure that help could walk and was behaving normally! Luckily for all of us, Stilwell made a full recovery and is alive and well to this day, with no lasting concerns! He is one of the lucky ones – with a temperature that high, he is very very lucky that he didn’t have any permanent damage, and that he was able to be pulled back from the brink of despair so quickly!!


As a cautionary tale, please remember Stilwell. Even when it doesn’t see that hot, or your pup is used to staying in the car, or going without air conditioning – please be cautious and be sure to take the heat into account for our four legged friends. Lots of other pups have not been so lucky, and emergently dealing with Stilwell is something I would gladly never do again!


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