Health Warning - Heat Stroke

When you or I get overheated, we sweat to eliminate excess body heat.  Our pets can only sweat around their paws.  They need to pant, rapidly moving air through their nasal passages and mouth to rid themselves of excess body heat.  Even though panting is an efficient method to control body temperature, it can be very limited under conditions of high humidity or in close quarters.  Pets with shorter muzzles, such as pugs and English bulldogs, are at an ever greater disadvantage as the surfaces to rid them of excess heat are smaller.  Overweight or heavy/thick coated pets, the very young and the senior pets are also at a disadvantage when it comes to controlling body temperature.

When we become overheated, we often stop what we are doing, cool off in the shade or air conditioning and drink a glass of cool water. We understand the symptoms, know the risks and most of the time, prevent the condition from becoming a life-threatening situation.  Unfortunately, our pets do not understand the threat and often are unable or unwilling to take preventive steps.  It is our responsibility to keep our pets safe and to take preventive measures.

Even on a mild sunny day, the temperature inside your car can reach over 120 degrees is just a few short minutes, becoming a lethal oven.  You know the feeling when you first get in your car.  Now imagine being locked in there with a winter coat or even a light jacket on and not being able to do anything but suffer.  Leaving the windows cracked a few inches is NOT sufficient, nor is leaving your car running with the air conditioning going as the A/C can break or the car stop running.  NEVER leave your pet inside the car, even for "just a few minutes".  It only takes "just a few minutes" for your pet's body temperature to reach a critical level where your pet can suffer permanent internal organ or brain damage, and "just another minute" for your pet to die.

Your car is not the only danger to your pet.  Being left outdoors without shade or shelter and sufficient air flow, especially if your pet is chained or in a run, is another serious threat.  The water in the bowl sitting in the afternoon sun becomes undrinkably hot, if there is any water left.  The heat radiating off the concrete pen floor can counter the cooling effect of the shade and even burn pads.  Extra activity or excitement, such as an outdoor party or a new pet next door can cause your pet to spend too much time running around, becoming overheated.

The summer sun can cause other problems for your pet.  Your pet can get sunburned, especially on the nose and ears, so apply sunscreen to those sensitive areas.  Hot asphalt and sand can burn the pads of the feet.  Don't let your pet walk on these surfaces for extended periods unless you provide protective footwear.

Symptoms to look for:  Excessive panting, a blank stare, an anxious expression, pale gums and/or bright red tongue, disorientation or non-responsive to commands, dry warm skin, high fever (normal is 101-102 degrees, damage to internal organs starts at 106 degrees), rapid heatbeat, thick saliva, vomiting, collapse, coma, and death.

Treatment:  If you think your pet is suffering from heatstroke, you must get your veterinarian's help IMMEDIATELY!  Try to cool your pet with cool water, apply wet towels to the hairless areas as you transport your pet to your vet.  Be aware that your pet's body temperature may go down, but rise again or even continue to drop below normal.  It is critical that your pet get veterinary care to counter shock, stabilize the body temperature and prevent or treat damage to the internal organs and the brain.  Even with emergency care, heatstroke can be fatal.

The key to keeping your pet safe from heatstroke is prevention.  If you think you will have to leave your pet in the car for even a brief period, leave your pet at home instead.  Make sure your pet always has a supply of fresh cool water.  Provide well-ventilated shelter and sufficient shade during all daylight hours.  Provide a fan to move air if your pet must stay in a restricted area outdoors.  Limit outdoor playtime or exercise, especially during the hotter times of the day or if your pet is unsupervised.  Periodically bring your pet indoors and away from extra excitement.  Ask your veterinarian if your pet would benefit from a haircut during the summer.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency, but one that can be prevented.  Your pet relies on you to keep it safe during the dog-days of summer.



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