Heat Stroke

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

There are certain important messages that can never be repeated too many times. Some examples are familiar to most of us: Don't drink and drive; Always wear your seatbelt in the car; Smoking can be dangerous for your health. Never leave your pet in a closed car in the heat of summer is one of these messages when it comes to concern for the safety of our pets. It is never safe to assume everyone knows the importance of this rule and stop repeating it. Therefore as we experience the hot, humid weather in the middle of summer I want to take this opportunity to remind all pet owners about the dangers of heat stroke.

We must remember extreme temperatures when they occur can have a very negative impact on the health of our pets. Unfortunately, every summer veterinarians see a steady number of sick dogs and cats suffering from heat stroke after being left outside in direct sunlight or in a car.

Heat stroke can occur very rapidly in hot, humid weather. The greenhouse effect of the car windows causes interior car temperature to escalate quickly. Leaving dogs, cats and other pets unattended in a car for even a few short minutes could have fatal results, even if a widow is left partially open. For this reason it is strongly recommended that pets never be left alone in vehicles during hot weather or on sunny days.

Animals do not tolerate high temperatures as well as humans do. Heatstroke occurs when the animal's mechanism for keeping cool, such as panting to exchange warm air for cool air, are insufficient to counteract high external temperatures, causing the body's temperature to rise. Confinement in an area where temperatures meet or exceed normal body temperature will cause the animal to overheat. When body temperatures reach more than 41.0 degrees Celsius, cellular function begins to fail and unconsciousness and even death may follow. Heat stroke is frequently fatal.

Long-haired animals and breeds with short flat faces may be slightly at greater risk to suffer heat stroke but it is important to remember that all breeds of dogs and cats can be affected. Also, although very young and very old animals may be a bit more susceptible to the danger, an animal of any age can develop the problem. Obesity, underlying heart or lung disease and dehydration are also considered risk factors for heat stroke.

The signs of heat stroke that an affected animal may show include intense and rapid breathing, a bright red tongue, red or pale gums, thick saliva, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness and fainting. In some cases of advanced heat stroke the animal may become unconscious or experience seizures.

Time is critically important when treating heat stroke. If you suspect heat stroke, immediately remove the animal from the heated area and thoroughly wet down the coat and skin with cool (not ice cold) water and take your pet directly to a veterinarian.

It is important to be aware of your pet's environment. During times of elevated temperatures do not leave them in confined areas such as cars, out door kennels or tied up in unshaded areas. Restrict exercise in hot weather and always ensure there is an adequate supply of water for your pet.  

In order to enjoy a happy, safe summer your pet depends on you in many ways and avoiding the danger of heat stroke is one of them.