heat stroke petHOT-HUMID-HEATSTROKE!

By Dan Franklin, DVM

The arrival of Summer reminds us it’s time to protect our pets from heatstroke!

The dangers High humidity, hot weather and being left behind in a vehicle can be deadly for your Pet. Even on a mild and sunny or overcast day, temperatures inside a vehicle can quickly rise to 120 degrees F.!

Likewise, tying your dog outside without shade and fresh water can be equally deadly. Also, what would happen if your pet got “wrapped up” or caught, and couldn’t get to its shady spot and cool drink?

No pet is immune from this condition, but certain animals are more susceptible. Very young pets can have trouble regulating their internal temperatures. Conversely, geriatric animals’ organs might not be able to support the body’s reaction to excessive heat.

Additionally, pets with a history of respiratory or cardiovascular disease can suffer from heatstroke. The same is true for obese dogs and cats. If your pet has a history of seizures or is currently taking any drugs that inhibit vasodilation, such as antihistamines, protect it from the heat, too!

Brachycephalic (short-faced) breeds like Pugs and Persians experience difficulties with summer’s high temperatures. The smaller surface areas of their nasal and oral cavities allow less body-cooling to take place via evaporation.

When we overheat, we sweat all over our bodies to disseminate the excess heat. Our companion animals only sweat around their paws—not nearly enough surface area to effectively cool a hot, furry body.

For dogs, panting is usually an efficient way to control body heat, but on a hot, humid day, extra moisture in the air interferes with their ability to do so, and the potential for heatstroke increases.

As a dog pants harder to offset the heat, its internal temperature is rising to life-threatening levels. In no time, a normal canine temp of 101-102 degrees F. can spike to a fatal 108 degrees F.!

Interestingly, cats always manage to make themselves scarce on hot, humid days, but they can still overheat. Being trapped in a closet, or without a shady spot and some fresh water can put them at risk for heatstroke, too.

Here are some clinical signs of heatstroke to watch for:               

  • restlessness
  • bright red gums
  • profuse panting
  • nausea and/or diarrhea
  • staring or an anxious expression
  • muscular weakness, fatigue, and/or collapse
  • failure to respond to familiar commands

If you suspect your pet has heatstroke, initiate first aid by applying towels soaked in cool water to the fur-less areas of the body–but immediate professional treatment of heatstroke will be your pet’s only chance for survival!

Your Veterinarian will reduce your pet’s body temperature quickly enough to prevent brain damage but not fast enough to induce an organ-damaging hypothermic crash by using a combination of surface-cooling techniques, IV therapy and medications.

Even then, heatstroke can be fatal so prevention really is the key. Remember, our pets are trusting us to protect them from the hot and humid “dog days” of summer!


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