Heat related Problems in Pets – Including Heat Stroke in Dogs and Cats
Playing in the warm, sunshine with your dog is fun, but there are a few simple precautions you can take to keep your dogs cool in the heat and protect them from heat-related problems. By understanding how your dog copes with the warm temperatures and planning ahead you can avoid potentially dangerous situations. Dogs and cats do not perspire the way we do; they can dispel heat though their paw pads, nose and by panting. As a dog breathes in, air travels through their nasal passage and is cooled before it reaches the lungs. When temperatures become warmer and more humid, a dog has a harder time cooling down. Your dog’s heart and lungs work harder as your dog breathes in and out quicker to reduce their body temperature. This is especially true in short-nosed dogs, who have a harder time cooling down because of their shorter nasal passages.
One major thing that many dog owners overlook when it’s hot out is their dog’s feet. Paw pads can be easily burned by hot pavement. Summer heat warms pavements just like a frying pan and if the pavement gets too hot it can burn your dog’s paws. Sand can also get very hot, so use the hand technique to check sandy surfaces too. Press the back of your hand against the asphalt or concrete for 7 seconds to verify if it will be comfortable for
your dog to walk on. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws. Avoid these surfaces during the day or consider putting protective booties or paw wax on your dog’s paws as added protection.
Sunburn is a real possibility for your pets when outside. The ear tips, bridge of the nose, around the eyes and abdomen are all sensitive areas on a dog’s skin. These areas have thinner skin and are more exposed. If you plan to be out in hot sun for a while, consider purchasing a sun protector or high factor waterproof sunscreen MADE FOR DOGS and whenever possible rest in the shade. Also if you have a thin haired dog and/or white dog you may need to take extra precautions as they tend to get sunburned more easily.
Dogs can succumb to heat stroke very quickly in warm and humid weather. Prevention is key. Avoid vigorous exercise on hot days, keep your dog hydrated and do not leave them alone outside or in a warm space such as a car.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Dogs
- Excessive drooling
- Increased body temperature – above 103° F (39° C)
- Reddened gums and moist tissues of the body
- Production of only small amounts of urine or no urine
- Rapid heart rate
- Irregular heartbeats
- Stoppage of the heart and breathing
- Sudden breathing distress
- Vomiting blood
- Bloody Diarrhea
- Black, tarry stools
- Small, pinpoint areas of bleeding
- Changes in mental status
- Muscle tremors
- Wobbly, incoordinated or drunken gait or movement
- Unconsciousness in which the dog cannot be stimulated to be awakened
Causes of Heat Stroke in Dogs
- Excessive environmental heat and humidity
- Upper airway disease that inhibits breathing; the upper airway includes the nose, nasal passages, throat, and windpipe
- Underlying disease that increases likelihood of developing hyperthermia, such as paralysis of the voice box or larynx; heart, blood vessel disease and nervous system disease
- Poisoning – some poisonous compounds, such as strychnine and slug and snail bait, can lead to seizures, which can cause an abnormal increase in body temperature
- Anesthesia complications
- Excessive exercise
Risk Factors for Heat Stroke in Dogs
- Previous history of heat-related disease
- Heat intolerance due to poor acclimatization to the environment such as large heavy coated dogs
- Heart or lung problems
- Age extremeseither very young or old
- Underlying heart/lung disease
- Increased levels of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism)
- Short-nosed, flat-faced breeds such as bulldogs and pugs
- Thick haired breeds
- Dehydration, insufficient water intake, restricted access to water
Early recognition of the symptoms of heat stroke is key to a prompt recovery. If your dog’s increased body temperature can be linked to environmental temperature, such as weather, an enclosed room, grooming cage or exercise, the first immediate step will be to attempt to lower the body temperature.
Some external cooling techniques include spraying the dog down with cool water, or immersing the dog’s entire body in cool – not cold – water and wrapping the dog in cool, wet towels. Stop cooling procedures when temperature reaches 103° F (you can check using a rectal thermometer) to avoid dropping below normal body temperature.
It is very important to avoid ice or very cold water, as this may cause blood vessels near the surface of the body to constrict and may decrease heat dissipation. A shivering response also is undesirable, as it creates internal heat. Lowering the temperature too quickly can lead to other health problems, a gradual lowering is best. The same guideline applies to drinking water. Allow your dog to drink cool, not cold, water freely. However, do not force your dog to drink.
You will need to have your dog examined by a veterinarian to ensure that a normal temperature has been reach and has stabilized, and that no long lasting damage has taken place within the organs or brain. Complications, such as a blood-clotting disorder, kidney failure, or fluid build-up in the brain will need to be immediately and thoroughly treated. Your doctor will check your dog’s blood clotting times, and kidney function will be analyzed in part by urinalysis. An electrocardiogram may also be used to observe your dog’s heart capabilities and any irregularities that might have resulted as a result of the hyperthermic condition.
In many cases patients need to be hospitalized until their temperature is stabilized, and may even need intensive care for several days if organ failure has occurred. Oxygen supplementation via mask, cage, or nasal catheter may be used for severe breathing problems, or a surgical opening into the windpipe or trachea may be required if upper airway obstruction is an underlying cause or a contributing factor. Intravenous feeding or a special diet may need to be prescribed until your dog’s organs have recovered to handle a normal diet again.
Dogs that have suffered an episode of hyperthermia are prone to experiencing it again. Be aware of the clinical signs of heat stroke so you may respond quickly to an episode. Know how to cool your dog properly, and talk to your veterinarian about the appropriate procedures for maintaining proper body temperature and lowering it in the safest way possible. A specially made cooling vest can help keep your dogs temperature down if you are going out in hot weather.
If your dog is older, or is a breed that is prone to overheating, avoid taking your dog out during the hottest times of day, or leaving the dog in places that can become too hot for your dog, like a garage, sunny room, sunny yard, or car. Never leave your dog in a parked car, even for only a few minutes, as a closed car will become dangerously hot very rapidly. Always have water accessible to your dog and on hot days you might even add ice blocks for your dog to lick.
If you have not done so already, you may wish to invest in a pet CPR class. It can mean the difference between your dog living or dying should an episode of heat stroke occur. Heat stroke in dogs is a serious condition that should be evaluated by a professional.
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