The long, warm days of spring and summer are perfect to spend time with our pets. This may be taking them on your daily jog or just bringing them along for the car ride during a quick trip to the grocery store. Unfortunately, in our warm, humid climate those two innocent events can turn into a life-threatening heatstroke for your pup in a matter of minutes.
Beginning in the spring and running through the fall, the emergency clinic begins seeing dogs brought in for heatstroke. The story is usually the same. The owner did not want to leave them home while making a quick trip to the store. With the windows rolled up and sunlight shining in, heat is trapped in the car like a greenhouse. Within minutes the temperature can exceed 100 degrees. Even with the windows cracked, the temperature inside the car can increase to dangerous levels.
Built in A/C
Dogs cool themselves by panting. This causes air to evaporate from their respiratory tract. The evaporation of air takes heat with it and cools the body. As more heat is trapped in the car, your dog inhales more hot air with each breath. Soon its ability to cool itself is overwhelmed and body temperature begins to rise.
This elevation in temperature can damage every organ in the body. First blood vessels are injured and may leak fluid into the lungs. Spontaneous bleeding may result as the vessels are damaged further and the liver's ability to make clotting proteins is impaired. The liver and the kidneys may start failing, allowing toxins to build up in the blood. Eventually, the brain and heart are affected, resulting in death. Even if heatstroke is diagnosed early, the organ damage may be irreversible.
Exercising with your pet in the heat of the day can have the same effect. Panting is not as efficient a cooling system as perspiration. We have evaporation occurring over our entire body while pets have it only from their respiratory tract. They cannot cool off enough to go on a 5-mile run in the heat of the day like we can. They will try to keep up, however, and you may not realize there is a problem until it is too late. If there is any doubt about whether to take your dog on a run, the safe answer should always be no.
Heat safety is mostly about common sense. Here are some tips to keep your pet safe during hot weather:
Pets should have access to all the water they want. Panting requires moisture to cool, so they must remain fully hydrated. If they do begin to overheat, good hydration may protect their organs from irreversible damage.
If pets are left outside during hot days, they must have areas where they can get out of the sun. Many dogs can remain outside on hot days if they are quiet and shaded from the sun.
Pets should be active only during the cool parts of the day, such as early evening and morning.
Dogs who have been in an air-conditioned home should not suddenly be placed outside for the entire day.
Certain breeds do not tolerate hot climates as well as others. Huskies, malamutes and Akitas have thick insulating coats. Bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers have been bred to have those cute faces that inhibit their ability to move air efficiently and thus hampers the ability of panting to cool them.
The early symptoms of heatstroke are labored breathing, weakness and altered mentation. If your pet is lagging behind while you run, then slow down or even stop to allow him to cool off.
If you feel your pet is overheating, act quickly. Remove it from the hot environment (bring inside or get out of the hot car). A cool water bath can be given. It should not be ice cold, as this can actually drop the temperature too low. Rubbing alcohol can be applied to the footpads and hairless areas. This will evaporate faster than water and remove heat.
If these steps are not helpful, then seek immediate veterinary attention. This is a situation where it is best to overreact rather than underreact. Your pet's doctor can start IV fluids to maintain hydration and blood pressure as well as to aid in cooling internally. Other medications and monitoring of organ function may also be required.
We do not like seeing these patients as it is almost always avoidable and many times fatal. You and your pet can have fun during the warm months of the year. Just use a little common sense.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.