By Dr. Al Townshend
Summer is almost here and it’s time to think about getting outside. Depending on where you live, the warmer weather that summer brings can be a welcome relief from the chills of winter, or it can be a potential threat to your pet’s health and safety.
In the southern portion of the United States, especially the southwest, temperatures commonly exceed 110°F (43.3°C). Temperatures in the mid to upper 30°C (90°F) frequently occur in the southern regions of Canada.
As temperatures reach these high levels, the life-threatening risk to human health and the health of our pets is in jeopardy, if we are not constantly aware. Going off to work and a power failure occurs, leaving a pet or child in the car for a quick trip to the store that turns out to be longer than expected can put life at significant risk.
When it comes to excessively high temperature it’s important to understand that our pets have some disadvantages:
– Sweating helps us regulate our body temperature. Unfortunately, dogs and cats only sweat through their foot pads. Pets regulate body temperature by panting and moving hot air out and cooler air in.
– Pets have the disadvantage of walking around wearing a fur coat all the time.
Pets that are exposed to high summer temperatures are dependent on their Guardians for their safety and wellbeing.
Leaving a pet exposed to high temperatures for too long without adequate shade or water, overexertion during periods of excessive heat can increase the risk of heatstroke or heat exhaustion.
A good rule of thumb is, if we are beginning to feel hot, our pets are too.
Pets experience heatstroke when their body temperature exceeds safe levels. The normal body temperature of dogs and cats is between 101°F (38°C) – 102.5°F (39°C). When a pet’s body temperature rises to above 104.5°F (40.5°C), overheating is a risk. Heatstroke or overheating generally occurs as a result of overexposure to high temperatures (heatstroke) or excessive exercise in hot weather (heat exhaustion).
Any animal has the potential to overheat but some pets are more susceptible. Pets under six months of age, senior pets, overweight dogs and cats are all at an increased risk. Short-muzzled (brachycephalic) breeds such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, Pekingese, and Persian cats, who are unable to cool air when they breathe as efficiently as longer-muzzled animals. Thick, darker hair can make a pet more susceptible to overheating. Pets with heart or lung disease and pets on certain medications may be at a greater risk of overheating during summer months.
Understanding the risk and catching the signs early are the keys to avoiding a life-threatening event.
Signs of Overheating
- Rapid or heavy panting (your pet’s attempt to cool itself) and/or difficulty breathing.
- Heavy drooling, thick or “ropy” saliva
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Bright red mucus membranes (tongue and gums)
- Color of mucus membranes can progress to pale or as the animal’s condition worsens
- Staggering or unsteady gait
- Excessive thirst
- Rapid heart rate
- Seizures or collapse
- Get the pet out of the sun and into as comfortable an area as possible. Into a shaded area, inside with air conditioning or a fan.
- Gradually lower the pet’s body temperature. Never use an ice-bath or ice-water. Wet towels over the back of his neck, top of the head, in the armpits, and in the groin area; you can also wipe lukewarm water on the ear flaps and paws. Slowly lower the temperature.
- If outside, a garden hose is a great tool to slowly lower the temperature.
- Once the signs of overheating begin to subside, call your veterinarian and get the pet in as soon as possible. If there is time and you are prepared, it is helpful to take the pet’s rectal temperature before calling. Stop any further treatment once the temperature is down to 103°(39.4°C).
Prevention is the Best Medicine
- Only exercise outside during the coolest times of the day, usually early or late in the day.
- Look for shaded areas to walk your dog
- Always carry water and a travel bowl and stop to offer regularly.
- Don’t stay out too long.
- Never leave a pet unattended when temperatures place your pet at risk.
- Cool Mats and bandanas for inside comfort are a great comfort zone for both dogs and cats during really hot weather.
- Even inside the home, always make sure fresh, clean water is always available.
Remember, overheating doesn’t just happen, be vigilant and have a great summer with your pets!