Finally, summer weather is here and it is getting HOT. You may notice that your dog is starting to pant a lot more than normal during your walks or is becoming tired more quickly. These are signs that it is time for us all to learn a bit more about heatstroke in our pets!
What is heatstroke?
Heatstroke, otherwise known as hyperthermia, is simply referred to as an increased body temperature caused by environmental conditions–namely heat and humidity. A dog’s normal temperature is usuallybetween 37.8 and 39.8 degrees Celsius. If their temperature rises higher than 40.5 degrees–this is a true danger zone.
How does heatstroke occur?
One common cause of heatstroke, (which is seen featured on the news nearly every summer), is pets being left in cars with inadequate ventilation during hot summer weather. You may think the car is cool when you leave it, but it can heat up by as much as 4 degrees within a short period of time. Also, if your animal is exerting itself by barking or trying to escape from the car, the heat generated exceeds the heat that can be dissipated. Heatstroke can happen other ways too–pets being left outside without adequate shade, pets who have recently moved to a warmer climate, and pets who are over-exerted in hot weather are also at risk. Additionally to these situational causes, some conditions, such as obesity can predispose your pets to experience hyperthermia. Even breed type makes an impact! Short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds such as Pugs (like Marty below), English bulldogs and Lhasa apso often suffer from ineffectual panter syndrome which can result in a fatal increase in body temperature.
What are the symptoms of heatstroke in my pets?
The initial symptoms may be hard to spot, and are characterized by excessive panting, distress, and restlessness. As the condition worsens though, symptoms such as excessive amounts of drool from the nose or mouth will be harder to ignore and are a high cause for concern. Finally, the pet may appear to be unsteady on their feet and the gums may begin to turn a purple, blue, or even bright red colour due to inadequate oxygen supply.
How can I prevent and treat heatstroke in my pets?
Try to be logical and empathetic when it comes to your pet’s well-being–if you wouldn’t want to be in the car for a half hour with the windows up, neither would your pet! Do not leave your pets unattended outside during the summer season, and try to groom them more often than in the winter so their hair doesn’t assist in overheating.
When treating heatstroke, what you SHOULD do is just as important as what you SHOULD NOT do. You SHOULD remove your pet from the hot environment and transfer to a shaded, cool environment, pointing a fan at him/her. Then, begin the cooling process by putting COOL, wet towels on their back, armpits, and groin area, putting cool water on their ears as well. Then, transport to the nearest veterinary facility immediately. Always drive with the air conditioning on and windows open. Remember, this disease can be fatal, and no time should be wasted.
What you SHOULD NOT do is use cold water or ice to cool your pet down. Although it seems logical to use the coldest temperature possible, it is actually the opposite of helpful. The goal is to cool the innermost structure of your pet, not just their skin. If cold/ice water is used, it will actually shrink their superficial blood cells creating an insulated layer of tissue which will hold the heat in even longer!
Gfeller, R. W. (1994, December 31). Hyperthermia (heat stroke, heat prostration). Retrieved from Veterinary Partner website: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=366
Content Contributor: Dr. Sandy Drury