Heatstroke and Pets: What Owners Need to Know
As summer kicks off, the heat can bring dangers to pets. Even on seemingly “cool” days, the risk of heatstroke can be alarming.
Often, on days with mild temperatures, pet owners might be tempted to leave their pet in the car for “just a minute” while they run into the store. But a recent Stanford University study showed that on a 72-degree day, a car’s internal temperature could climb to 116 degrees within one hour.
While most responsible pet owners are aware of the “animal-in-car” danger, pets can suffer from heatstroke in other surprising ways.
“Unfortunately, heatstroke can occur in more common ways — from a walk around the neighborhood to simple activities outside,” said Dr. Miryam Reems, a veterinary critical care specialist at Florida Veterinary Specialists.
Heatstroke occurs when the pet’s natural defense system cannot handle the heat building up inside his body. Usually, a dog handles heat through respiratory measures such as panting. When the dog cannot pant away the heat, his body will overheat. Heatstroke that occurs as a result of physical activity or exercise usually takes place when pets are exposed to hot temperatures.
“The heat index is particularly important, because if the weather forecast says it will be 85 degrees and the humidity is 89 percent, it will actually feel like 101 degrees outside,” said Reems, who recommends owners avoid exercising or walking their pets during the middle of the day.
“When it is this hot outside, the best times for physical activity are before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m.,” she continued. Reems also cautions that although there are measures to prevent heatstroke, it can occur at any time of the day.
Some pets can get heatstroke while swimming. Even the most athletic breeds and dogs that are very fit can suffer from heatstroke. Recently, Reems treated a working dog with a local public safety department who suffered from heatstroke.
Heatstroke is a veterinary emergency and should be treated immediately upon the recognition of symptoms, which can include: excessive panting, profuse salivation, glazed eyes or staring, anxiety or restlessness, gums and tongue that appear bright red or purple, confusion, trouble standing or walking, collapse, and vomiting.
If you suspect that your pet is suffering from heatstroke, Reems recommends that you try to cool him down by soaking him with towels and water and placing him in front of a fan, if possible. Then contact your veterinarian immediately. It is not recommended that owners use ice or ice-cold water to cool pets, because this may lead to cooling the body too quickly.
To prevent heatstroke, Reems advises that pet owners:
1. Keep pets inside on hot days. Even if your yard has shady areas, keep in mind the shadow shifts throughout the day.
2. Always have fresh water available. Whether inside or out, be sure your pet has clean cool water to drink at all times. If you go for a walk or an outing, take plenty of water along. You can also consider thoroughly wetting your dog’s body before a walk.
3. Keep pets well groomed. This helps pets’ fur do what it is intended to do — protect them from the sun and insulate them from heat. If their coat is matted and tangled, the fur may actually trap heat.
4. Maintain a healthy weight. Keep walks at a gentle pace. And if your pet seems tired, rest a bit or stop the activity. Limit longer walks to early morning or evenings when the sun is not directly overhead and temperatures are more comfortable.