PREVENTING HEAT STROKE
Be a Cool Owner: Don’t Let Your Pet Overheat
Working up a good sweat in the hot summer months may be good for you, but it can lead to heat stroke in your pet and kill him in a matter of minutes. Heat stroke is a dangerous condition that takes the lives of many animals every year. Your pet’s normal body temperature (dogs and cats) is 100 to 102.5F. It if rises to 105 to 106 degrees, your pet is at risk for developing heat exhaustion. If the body temperature rises to 107 degrees, your pet has entered the dangerous zone of heat stroke. With heat stroke, irreversible damage and death can occur. It is more common in dogs but can occur in cats as well.
Here are some harsh but true summer facts:
1. The temperature in a parked car can reach 120 to 160 degrees in a matter of minutes, even with partially opened windows. It only takes ten minutes on an 85-degree day for the inside of your car to reach 102°F, even if the windows have been left open an inch or two. Within 30 minutes, the interior can reach 120 degrees – and even when the temperature is a pleasant 70 degrees outside, the inside of your car may be as much as 20 degrees hotter than the air outside. Parking in the shade offers little protection, as the sun is constantly shifting throughout the day.
2. Any pet exercising on a hot, humid day, even with plenty of water, can overheat. Overheating often leads to heat stroke. When humans overheat we are able to sweat in order to cool down. However, your pet cannot sweat as easily; he must rely on panting to cool down. Dogs and cats breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, directing the air over the mucous membranes of the tongue, throat and trachea to facilitate cooling by evaporation of fluid. They also dissipate heat by dilation of the blood vessels in the surface of the skin in the face, ears and feet. When these mechanisms are overwhelmed, hyperthermia and heat stroke usually develop. Heat stroke is a condition arising from extremely high body temperature (rectal temperature of 105°F to 110°F), which leads to nervous system abnormalities (such as lethargy, weakness, collapse or coma). Abnormally high body temperature (also called hyperthermia) develops after increased muscular activity with impaired ability to give off heat due to high heat and humidity or respiratory obstruction.
3. Pets who have a thick hair coat, heart and lung problems or a short muzzle are at greater risk for heat stroke.
Others at risk include:
- Puppies and kittens up to 6 months of age
- Large dogs over 7 years of age and small dogs and cats over 14 years
- Overweight pets
- Pets who are overexerted
- Ill pets or those on medication
- Brachycephalic dogs (short, wide heads) like pugs, English bulldogs and Boston terriers
- Pets with cardiovascular disease and/or poor circulation
Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency. Check your pet’s temperature rectally if you suspect heat stroke. If it is over 105°F, remove your pet from the heat source immediately and call your veterinarian.
If your pet is overheating, he will appear sluggish and unresponsive. He may appear disoriented. Other symptoms include excessive panting and drooling. The gums, tongue and conjunctiva of the eyes may be bright red and he will probably be panting hard. He may even start vomiting. Eventually he will collapse, seizure and may go into a coma.
If your pet exhibits any of these signs, treat it as an emergency and call your veterinarian immediately. On the way to your veterinary hospital, you can cool your pet with wet towels, spray with cool water from a hose or by providing ice chips for your pet to chew (providing he is conscious).
Heat-related illness is typically diagnosed based on physical exam findings and a recent history that could result in overheating. Your veterinarian may perform various blood tests to assess the extent of vital organ dysfunction caused by overheating. Intensity of treatment depends upon the cause and severity of the heat illness. Treatment can vary from fresh water, cooling devices, and careful observation to aggressive fluid therapy, oxygen supplementation and other medications.
To prevent heatstroke in animals, NEVER EVER leave them in the car. Make sure they are in a well-ventilated area at all times and out of direct sun. If you are uncomfortable in that area or room, your pet probably is too. Also, make sure your pet always has access to plenty of fresh clean water and shade. Outings should be kept shorter and walks should be done during the early morning hours when it is still cooler outside. Pets with thick coats, short muzzles and heart and/or breathing problems are at greater risk for heat stroke and should remain indoors with air conditioning during extremely hot days.
Avoid pavement in hot weather. Your pet has very sensitive paw pads, and the hot asphalt during the summer months can burn them. Instead, opt to walk your pet on grass or plan your walks during the early morning/late evening when the pavement is not as hot.
Refill pet medications and combat fleas & ticks. If your pet takes special medications for heart and/or lung disease, make sure to continue his medications consistently. Insect populations increase during the summer months, escalating the chances that your pet will come into contact with fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Make sure that your pet is up-to-date with their annual heartworm testing, and once monthly year-round heartworm prevention. Also, refill their flea and tick control products and use them once monthly year-round.
We all hope you enjoy the rest of your summer! Remember, it’s hot out there, so drink plenty of fluids and stay cool! Please call us at 706-546-7879 if you have any questions or concerns.