Contributed by Dr. Johnathan Elliott
It’s that time of year for the heat and humidity of the dog days of summer. Temperatures in the Tennessee Valley soaring to the mid to upper-90s.
Heatstroke is a rapid rise in body temperature and a true emergency that untreated will lead to organ failure and death. Body temperatures will reach levels as high as 104 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Environmental factors of humidity, and high temperatures combined with exercise, although exercise is not necessary, and concurrent medical problems such as obesity, respiratory disorders, or heart disease increase the risk of heatstroke dramatically. Dogs and cats do not have the ability for significant sweat production, so they rely on panting for body heat loss. Short faced, small chested cat and dog breeds such as Persians, Pugs, and Bulldogs are particularly sensitive because their body types are inefficient body heat regulators. Almost any change in their routine in the face of summer’s heat and humidity puts them at risk.
Early signs of heatstroke include panting excessively, staggering, vomiting, excessive salivation, diarrhea, and finally collapse and seizures. The gums and tongue will be bright red and their heart rates will be elevated. Once body temperatures reach 105 degrees or above, with or without collapse or seizuring, death is imminent. If you notice any of the early signs, particularly if you own a pet predisposed to heatstroke, initiate cooling attempts with alcohol sprayed to footpads, or cool water applied to the groin, abdomen, and chest areas. Owners need to avoid cold water immersions or ice baths because the pet’s ability to regulate its body temperature may already be affected and hypothermia can quickly ensue. However, if your only option is a pond or creek, then use what is available to you. Take your pet to your veterinarian or emergency service immediately for continued treatment. Continued body temperature regulation, fluid replacement, and organ health evaluations are important for any level of heatstroke. Hospital stays can vary from 1-2 days to a week depending on the severity. The gastrointestinal tract is very sensitive to heatstroke so gastric and intestinal protectants couple with diet change will be necessary for several days.
To prevent heatstroke, the best choice is always to provide shade for your outside dogs and fans on the hottest days. Always, have abundant amounts of clean, fresh water available to your pet. Make sure your pet’s water bowl is clean. Even the fittest of dogs can develop heatstroke if made to work too hard on hot, humid days without sufficient water….just as we can. Inside pets or those with preexisting conditions should avoid being exercised when temperatures are at their highest. It is ideal to provide a fan for them after their exercise to help them cool off or anytime they are not in an air-conditioned environment. When possible, underlying conditions should be corrected.
Summer is a great time for everyone including our pets. Fit pets are no more likely to develop heatstroke than we are but far too many pets and people die from heatstroke each year. Simple precautions are usually all that are necessary for all too fully enjoy the season.