Pets and Heatstroke! Keep Your Pet Summer Safe ...

It looks like the summer weather may finally be starting in Alberta!  We must be aware of the dangers that can come with the heat of the summer for our beloved four-legged furry family members.

Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) can occur in dogs that are exposed to elevated environmental temperatures or have performed strenuous activity.  Heat stroke is a  condition that can arise secondary to increased body temperature. It can quickly become a  life-threatening condition due to the subsequent damage to internal organs. It is seen most commonly in our canine companions due to their active lifestyles and being frequent companions with their pet owners during outdoor activities and travels.

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One of the most common reasons pets are seen with heatstroke is because they are left in cars on a warm day.  A few minutes is too long for our companions. For example, studies have shown that even with a comfortable external temperature of 24 degrees Celsius, within 10 minutes the temperature can rise to 34 degrees in a car and within 20 minutes, to 40 degrees. In the summer months under the right conditions’ life-threatening increases in body temperature can occur within minutes.  “Cracking” the car windows open or parking in the shade on a warm day does not reduce this rapid rise in temperature that occurs in a parked car.  

Why are our pets predisposed to hyperthermia and heat stroke? Our four- legged companions lack sweat glands besides a very limited number on their paw pads. They depend primarily on dissipation of heat from the respiratory system through panting. Getting rid of heat by this defense mechanism is significantly impaired in environments with high humidity and/or high ambient temperatures, ie. a parked car.  Animals can also attempt to decrease their body temperature by placing themselves in a cooler environment in which body heat is passively transferred to a cooler surface, ie. a cool floor. When an animal fails to cool its body by these protective mechanisms, as its body temperature increases, its metabolic rate will rise increasing body heat further.

There are several confounding factors predisposing pets to heat stroke in addition to those noted above. Some of these factors include older age, brachycephalic breeds such as pugs and bulldogs (narrow airways/ squished faces), obesity, and previous history of heat induced hyperthermia.

Clinical signs of heat induced illness can include, but are not limited to excessive panting, collapse, gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting or diarrhea, and seizures.

What do you do if you suspect your pet has heat stroke? If you suspect your pet may be suffering from effects of hyperthermia you should take them to a veterinarian immediately for assessment. Early therapy will significantly increase your pets’chance of recovery. Pet owners should also institute measures to slowly cool their pet. Examples include  moving them into an air-conditioned environment to help them dissipate heat, misting them with cool water, wrapping them in cool wet towels, and placing ice packs at the top of their limbs near their body “armpits”can help. Immersing an animal in ice baths or cold water to rapidly cool their bodies is contraindicated and can cause further damage. Offer the pet water if the pet is capable of taking it in.

Recommendations to avoid heat stroke

To avoid heat stroke and its life-threatening complications, always provide your pet access to fresh cool water, avoid physical activity with your pet in the heat of the day, choose instead to be active with them at cooler times, and NEVER leave your companion in a parked car on a warm day even it is “just for a few minutes”.