June 2024


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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Keeping Your Pet Safe in the Summer Heat

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By Tiffany Hughes, DVM

Emergency and Critical Care Intern

Summer is a great time to get outdoors with our four-legged friends, but caution must be taken to make sure they stay safe. Any dog can be at risk for heat stroke even outside of a hot car. Older dogs, overweight dogs, and short-snouted breeds like bulldogs, pugs, and boxers are at increased risk.

Dogs do not sweat except from their paw pads. Their most effective way of cooling themselves is by panting. Some older dogs have paralysis of their vocal cords which prevent them from panting as effectively. Short-snouted breeds have less surface area in which evaporative cooling occurs. These dogs can get heat stroke from just sitting out in the hot sun without appropriate shade. Also, exercising your dog in the heat, such as hikes up the mountains, can also lead to heat stroke if not careful.

Normal canine body temperature is between 99.5 and 102.5oF. Dogs will begin to suffer from heat stroke when their body temperature exceeds 105oF (hyperthermia). Because of their inability to dissipate heat, their body temperature may rise ahead of the ambient temperature. Initiating cooling measures before their temperature reaches 105oF, results in a favorable prognosis with minimal consequences. However, as their temperature and the duration of the hyperthermia increases, the worse the prognosis and the more aggressive the therapy required. Severe cases lead to sloughing of the intestinal tract, coma, seizures, multi-organ failure, and death.

Signs of heat stroke/distress:

  • Excessive panting and drooling/foaming
  • Blue or dark red gum/tongue color
  • Weakness and collapse
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Abnormal mentation

If your pet begins exhibiting any of the above signs, initiate cooling treatment immediately and bring to your nearest pet emergency center.

Heat Stroke First Aid:

  • Remove from source of heat
  • Wrap pet in cool, wet towels and aim a fan to aid in evaporative cooling
  • Encourage the pet to drink water but do not force them to drink. Forcing them to drink may lead to aspiration of water into their lungs.
  • Ice packs, if available, can be placed in the arm pits, groin, and under the neck
  • Do not douse in ice cold water
    1. Even though it seems intuitive that ice water would cool the pet faster, it actually does the opposite. Ice water causes the superficial veins to constrict, reducing blood flow, decreasing the amount of evaporative cooling, and increasing the pet’s core body temperature.
  • Bring to nearest pet emergency hospital immediately. When veterinary treatment is started within 90 minutes of the onset of clinical signs, the pet has a more favorable chance of survival.

When your pet is brought to the veterinarian for heat stroke, your veterinary team will need to institute treatment immediately. Your veterinarian will likely require bloodwork and x-rays to properly assess the level of damage and institute appropriate therapy. Your pet will need to be hospitalized for two days or more depending on the severity and may be very critically ill. They are most critical during the first 24 hours of treatment and at 48 hours, their prognosis for survival is good. However, some animals may have lasting damage to their kidneys, liver, or brain.

Prevention and early recognition are keys to keeping your pet happy and healthy.

Tips to avoid heat stroke in pets:

  • Never leave a pet unattended in a car. Even with windows down, the car can act as an oven and quickly heat to dangerous levels. On a 75oF day, within 10 minutes the inside of a car can reach 94o Once outside temperatures reach 90oF, the inside of the car heats to 109oF within 10 minutes and reaches 1290F in 30 minutes.
  • If your pet is outside, make sure it has access to plenty of fresh, cool water and a shaded area to get away from the sun.
  • Avoid exercise in the heat of the day and monitor your pet for signs of distress. Save those hikes, runs, and ball play for mornings and late evenings.

If you see an animal in a hot car, try to contact the owner or call the police for assistance.

Dr. Tiffany Hughes is an Emergency and Critical Care Intern at Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists. AMVS is a 24-hour veterinary facility providing specialty internal medicine, orthopedic surgery, oncology, emergency, critical care, and pain management. They are located in Longmont at 104 S. Main St. For more information, go to www.AspenMeadowVet.com.

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