Background: Heatstroke in dogs is often fatal and is associated with a high prevalence of secondary complications. Peripheral nucleated red blood cells (NRBC) occur in dogs with heatstroke, but their association with complications and the outcome is unclear.
Hypothesis: Peripheral NRBC are common in dogs with heatstroke and have prognostic significance.
Animals: Forty client-owned dogs with naturally occurring heatstroke.
Methods: Prospective, observational study. Dogs were followed from presentation to discharge or death. Serum biochemistry and coagulation tests were performed at presentation. CBC and evaluation of peripheral blood smears were performed at presentation and every 12 hours. The relative and the absolute NRBC numbers were calculated.
Results: Presence of NRBC was observed in 36/40 (90%) of the dogs at presentation. Median relative and absolute NRBC were 24 cells/100 leukocytes (range 0–124) and 1.48 × 103/μL (range 0.0–19.6 × 103/μL), respectively. Both were significantly higher in nonsurvivors (22) versus survivors (18) and in dogs with secondary renal failure and DIC versus those without these complications. Receiver operator curve analysis of relative NRBC at presentation as a predictor of death had an area under curve of 0.92. A cut-off point of 18 NRBC/100 leukocytes corresponded to a sensitivity and specificity of 91 and 88% for death.
Conclusions and Clinical Importance: Relative and absolute numbers of peripheral NRBC are clinically useful, correlate with the secondary complications, and are sensitive and specific markers of death in dogs with heatstroke, although they should never be used as a sole prognostic indicator nor should they replace clinical assessment.