Summer is upon us, folks and we are not the only ones who have the suffer through the heat. Our pets are among the most vulnerable to the dangers of heat stroke. There are no statistics regarding heat stroke in dogs because most of these cases go unreported but it is estimated that several hundred pets suffer this unnecessary fate every summer.
Dr. Amy Thomason at Westlake Animal Hospital has shared her knowledge and expert advice with us so that we can be prepared in the event our pets become overheated (or hyperthermic). Obviously, prevention is the number one piece of advice anyone can give pet owners so make sure you take appropriate measures during warm seasons. Keep your pets indoors during the hottest parts of the day (late afternoon) and always have fresh water accessible and as well as a shaded, well ventilated area for them to cool off. Never leave your pet in the car, even if you crack the windows and even if it’s “just for a minute”. This happened just last week in California. And, while we’re at it, try to remember not to leave your kids in the car either.
Now, here’s what you need to know in the event your dog does suffer from heat stroke. Even the fittest pets can become hyperthermic and this condition, if untreated or treated incorrectly, can result in major organ damage and even death so, please read on.
Reasons why a pet would be unable to dissipate heat:
- Brachycephalic conformation (lookin’ at you, pugs, bulldogs, frenchies, etc.)
- Laryngeal paralysis/upper airway obstruction
- Cardiovascular or respiratory disease
- Extremes in age (very young, very old)
- Central nervous system disease, including prolonged seizures
- Water deprivation
- Poorly ventilated areas
- High humidity
- Heat Prostration (collapse or loss of consciousness)
This is a LIFE THREATENING CONDITION, not to mention agonizing. When internal temperature is above 105, a true emergency exists. Above 109 degrees, organ damage occurs in kidneys, liver, intestines and brain. Prolonged temperatures over 109 degrees causes irreversible neuronal death which causes coma and permanent brain damage.
Remember, pets may recover if intensive supportive care is initiated but TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!!! Here’s what you can do at home before you take the pet in for veterinary care.
- Remove your pet from the environment where the hyperthermia occurred
- Move to shaded or cool environment and direct a fan on them
- If possible, determine rectal temperature and record it
- Begin to cool the dog by placing cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, armpits, and groin areas
- Wet the ear flaps and paws with cool water
- OR use cool water from a garden hose
- Transport to the closest veterinarian ASAP
Seems pretty logical, right? I mean who here hasn’t had used the same methods on themselves after a little too much time in the sun? But possibly more importantly, here is what NOT TO DO.
- Do not use very cold water or ice for cooling. It forms an insulating layer of tissue to hold the heat inside. Cooling the innermost structures of the body will actually be delayed. Instead, use cold tap water.
- Do not overcool the pet. A reasonable goal of cooling pet is to reduce your pet’s body temperature to 102.5-103 degrees while transporting to veterinarian.
- Do not attempt for force water into your pet’s mouth, but have fresh cool water available to offer should your pet be alert and show interest.
- Do not leave your pet unattended for any length of time.
When you arrive at your veterinarian’s office, you can expect swift action to continue cooling and rehydrating your pet. The following, are some things that may be necessary to help your pet recover.
- Monitor temperature every 5 minutes
- Continue cooling with cold tap water in tub
- IV Fluids – cooled if possible
- +/- Isopropol alcohol applied to feet/pads
- +/- Fan for cooling
- +/- Oxygen Therapy
With timely and appropriate action both on your part and that of your doctor’s, your pet stands the best chance for recovery. However, the prognosis will depend on the length of time the dog was hyperthermic, the amount of organ damage incurred, and your pet’s response to intensive supportive care. If DIC, organ failure, cerebral edema, coma, gastrointestinal damage or septicemia have occurred, your pet’s prognosis will be poor to grave so again, prevent this by acting fast.
I believe that as humans, we are responsible for honoring and valuing the lives of our neighbors, whether they be fellow humans or man’s best friend. If you see a dog in distress from heat or this happens to your pet, take action immediately. It is no joke. You could save a life. Thank you, Dr. Amy Thomason and all the staff at Westlake Animal Hospital in Austin, who have treated many pets suffering from heatstroke and work hard each day to educate pet owners in order to prevent this and many other harmful situations, helping pets to live longer and healthier lives.