The vet’s office: Protecting pets against heatstroke
By Dr. Roger Krogstad, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
A recent tragedy in Wausau resulting in the loss of a pet in a hot car points to one of many warm weather dangers. Dogs and cats do not have sweat glands on the body surface to cool them with evaporation like humans. With only a few sweat glands on the nose and feet, they cannot effectively cool themselves. Instead, their “central air conditioning” is through their lungs from panting. The cooler blood from the lungs circulates through the body to keep internal temperatures in a safe range.
Access to water and proper hydration is critical. Because the cooling is internal, a fan blowing on a distressed pet does not give relief unless the pet is wetted down first.
What is considered a hot day? The tragedy in Wausau occurred on only a 79-degree day, but temperatures in the closed vehicle reached 121 degrees.
Hot summer days can be very stressful to pets that are overweight, thick coated, senior, or that have impaired respiration. We heard of a sad story of an owner whose English bulldog died on a “not so hot day” because the pet had partial soft palate obstruction. The dog could get enough oxygen to maintain life but was unable to pant with enough volume to cool its body.
Precautions must be taken during the summer. Watch the news for the “livestock danger” report, which warns of high heat and high humidity. These warnings apply to pets as well. High humidity decreases the speed of evaporation and makes panting less efficient.
Outside pets should have shelter from the direct sun and access to a secured source of water. A water dish that gets easily tipped over may be a tragedy in the making.
A “summer cut” from the groomer reduces heat retention by removing the insulating properties of the hair coat. Most dogs will be able to grow a replacement coat by the time winter arrives.
How do you know if your dog or cat is in distress and at risk of heatstroke? Symptoms may present as rapid panting, a deep red dry tongue, or weakness. A normal body temperature of 101.5 degrees may quickly exceed 106 degrees, and tissue damage could begin and be ultimately fatal.
Call your veterinarian immediately and begin emergency body cooling procedures by wetting the pet with cool water or immersion in a cool water bath. Begin oral fluids if the pet can swallow. Plain water is better than sports drinks, as this is a dehydration event and not accompanied by electrolyte loss. In a severe case of heatstroke, emergency veterinary treatment may be necessary to give IV fluids and medications to prevent brain swelling and to reduce the chance of fatal tissue damage.
On those hot days, keep strenuous activity to a minimum and always carry water for both you and your pet. On extremely hot days, your basement may be the best cool place to hang out for you and your pets.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.