After months of cold and snow, we all look forward to the sunny days of summer. As pet parents, we need to remember that our dogs and cats deal with heat and high humidity in different ways than we do. Dogs and cats only have sweat glands in the areas between their paw pads, so they cannot perspire the way we do. Dogs will pant to help get rid of excess body heat, but this physiological mechanism has its limits in keeping the body temperature at normal levels. Although we do not observe it as often, cats will also pant when they are too hot.
Heat stroke refers to a condition where the body can no longer cool itself and maintain normal internal temperatures. Normal body temperatures for a dog or cat range between 38.0° and 39.5°C (humans sit at about 37.0°). Once a pet’s core temperature goes above 40.5° to 41.0°C, they are reaching a danger zone and can suffer from heat stroke. Initially a pet will begin to pant and appear distressed and may begin to salivate large amounts of drool from the mouth. In some cases, you may see a very runny nose; this phenomenon belies the myth that a wet nose is always a sign of good health! Without treatment dogs and cats can eventually seizure, become comatose, and die.
Never leave your pet in a car on a warm day. As a matter of fact, the Stanford University Medical Center found that the temperature inside of a car may rise over 15° C in as little as an hour. This means that the inside of your car may be at a pleasant 22° C when you leave your dog, but the interior will be a stifling, possibly life-threatening 36° C by the time you return from your errand.
There are several reasons your pet may be prone to heat stroke under the best of circumstances. Obese animals have a very difficult time keeping their temperature in the normal range when the environment is hot and humid. Dogs who have diseases that affect their upper airway may also be predisposed to these problems, because they are not able to pant efficiently and relieve all that pent-up body heat. The short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds in particular such as Pekingese, Pug, English Bulldog, etc. suffer from this “ineffectual panter syndrome”. Any pet who suffers from a chronic illness may have issues in hot weather.
We are the first line of defence in preventing heat stroke for our furry little friends:
· Ensure that your pet has ample water to drink and can seek shelter in shady or cool areas, such as a basement.
· When possible keep air circulating with a fan.
· NEVER leave your dog in a vehicle (ask yourself if you would leave your child in the car).
· Exercise your dog during the coolest times of the day such as early in the morning and later in the evening.
· Consider cooling your dog by hosing him or her down before exercise.
· Avoid hot sidewalks and pavement which may cause tender paw pads to burn.
· Dogs can be like kids who love to play and won’t stop until they are already suffering from heat stroke. Ensure your dog is getting plenty of water and resting frequently.
What to do when you suspect heat stroke:
· Remove your pet from the hot environment and place them in a shaded/cool place.
· Increase air circulation by directing a fan or an air conditioning vent toward the pet.
· Learn how to take your dog’s temperature and what normal is for him or her. Be comfortable taking your dog’s temperature when it is sick. This information will be very helpful to your veterinarian.
· Cool the body slowly with cool, wet towels under the neck, in the armpits and in the groin region. Do NOT use ice.
· Transport immediately to a veterinary hospital. Your pet may need professional care to prevent shock, seizures, or even death.
Dogs love to play outside on sunny days. We have a responsibility as pet parents to make summer a safe and happy time for our pets to enjoy. Happy holidays everyone!