Preventing Heatstroke in Pets
Summer is finally back and soon it is holiday time! It is a moment to take our pets out for walk in the park, go to the beach, camp in the bush and just have some fun with family and friends. Dogs love to get out and get active, feel the breeze on their skin and play around all day. However, thermometers are going up this season and Australia Bureau of Meteorology is expecting warmer than average days and nights in east and north of Australia, therefore we need to take some precautions to avoid heatstroke.
What is heatstroke?
Heatstroke, also known as hyperthermia in medical terms, is caused when the temperature rises well above the normal, which in dogs is a little higher than in people, ranging from 37°C to 38.5°C. When we expose a dog to direct sunlight or keep them in a small enclosed area with poor ventilation, their body temperature will rise rapidly, causing internal organ and brain failure.
What are the symptoms of heatstroke?
The first signs of increased temperature are panting and rapid heartbeat. Dogs will do that because they do not have sweat glands like humans, so they are unable to lose heat by perspiration. The tongue has a large amount of blood supply, which means that a large amount of blood can quickly circulate through its surface. Therefore, dogs pant to promote exchange of heat between their body and the air surrounding them, reason why they need to be in a well-ventilated area.
If after that the dog is still unable to cool down and its temperature rises above 40°C other symptoms will appear, such as red gums, excessive drooling and drinking and vomiting and/or diarrhoea. At this stage the body is still trying to cope with the temperature rise to preserve internal organs and brain function.
Once it is at that stage, it only takes a couple of minutes to get it out of control and the pet is in imminent risk. Their eyes may look glazed and they get disorientated, they start staggering until they collapse on the ground, which will then develop into strong and long seizures that culminate with coma and death.
How to prevent heatstroke?
Prevention is always the best solution and when it comes to heatstroke there is no difference. Here are some tips that will help you get your pooch through the summer heat:
- Take your pet out for exercises on the cooler hours of the day, such as early mornings and evenings. Temperature quickly rises to its peak from 10 am till mid-afternoon, so plan before going out.
- Take a bottle of water with you and frequently offer it to your dog. Many pets will go hours without drinking water until they are very thirsty and want to drink something. If they drink too much at a time they may get sick and vomit, causing more dehydration.
- If your pet does not want to drink, gently water its mouth, pads and belly. They also use the lower parts of the body to cool down. Never use a hose or throw buckets of ice cold water onto your dog too quickly, it can cause shock if the temperature changes abruptly.
- Keep your dog’s coat as short as possible, especially those with double coat, such as the Husky, German Shepherd, Malamute and Maremma. Take your pet to a groomer as soon as possible, as groomers get very busy during holidays and you mind find difficult to get an appointment.
- Make sure you provide enough shade so your dog can cool down during the day. Many pets love to sun bake, even in summer, thus you must be extra vigilant.
- Maintain a healthy summer pet diet and keep many water bowls as possible in your yard and change the water frequently to keep it always fresh. You can also offer them frozen treats (just place their favourite toy in the freezer for a couple of hours or make a big ice cube using a water bowl).
- Never leave your dog inside the car, even if you leave the windows open. They are still exposed to sunlight and they will not be able to find a cool place to lay down. Besides, they get agitated and anxious waiting for you, which will make their temperature go up as well.
How to treat heatstroke?
If you notice that your dog is showing the first symptoms of heatstroke, there are a few things you can do before taking him to a veterinary clinic:
- Offer your pet drinking water.
- Take your pet to a ventilated area and away from the sun. You can take them inside your house or the car and turn on the air conditioner or a fan.
- Gently water your pet’s feet and mouth so they get used to the water temperature, then hose their body starting from the belly. You can also use wet towels or use ice packs wrapped up in towels onto the dog’s body.
Having a digital thermometer is great way to monitor your dog’s temperature. If it reaches 40°C or over you must seek veterinary help. If you do not have a thermometer or you are still concerned take your pet to a vet ASAP. Heatstroke is an emergency!
Dr. Anna Abdala – BVM