Summertime is rapidly approaching, and pet owners are going to spending more time outside with their pets. One serious concern is that of heat exhaustion/heat stroke. This is a potentially life threatening situation for our pets and deserves some discussion.
Both dogs and cats can be susceptible to heat related illness, but our primary concern is our dog population as their daily lives and owner interactions are more associated with the outdoors. Heat exhaustion/heat stroke occur when a pet is exposed to high temperatures and/or humidities or engage in strenuous exercise and are unable to effectively cool off. This may be from spending time in a parked car while an owner makes a trip inside a store, or from being in environments that don’t have shade, or simply from running and playing in the yard. Clinical signs can be variable depending on how severely affected the pet is, but can include heavy panting and collapse. The real challenge of heat stroke patients is that multiple organ systems can be affected. Pets can experience bleeding issues, brain swelling, infection, as well as many other severe complications. Treatment needs to be immediate. Pets should be transported immediately to a veterinarian (preferably an emergency clinic, as these are intensive cases). The pet can have cool wet towels placed on them, and if available rubbing alcohol can be applied to the foot pads. With rapid recognition and treatment, these pets can survive, but this is a problem best addressed through careful planning and avoidance of risk factors. Pet owners should understand that it doesn’t have to be a blazing hot day for a pet to have risk. Heat stroke can occur on days of 80F with high humidity. Pets that are extremely excitable can have an increased susceptibility for heat stroke. Pets with short/smushed noses (pugs, etc) are at more risk as are pets that are overweight. Owner’s should be extremely vigilant when traveling with their pets. NEVER leave a pet in a parked car while it’s running. Always make sure there is a shady environment for the pet to seek out as well as fresh water. Clients who take their pets swimming should understand that heat stroke can affect these pets as well. For some extremely active or enthusiastic pets, clients may want to consider only allowing a brief period activity followed by a mandatory rest period. Ultimately our pets can still enjoy the outdoors with us as long as we take appropriate precautions and monitor them closely.