Summer is officially here (if the 90-plus degree temperatures hadn’t already tipped you off), so it’s more critical than ever to be on the look out for the possibility of heat stroke with your pets. Heat stroke is most common in the New York City metropolitan area during July and August as temperatures—and humidity—consistently reach yearly highs. Heat stroke is an abnormal, excessive increase in core temperature, which creates a dangerous and unsustainable body imbalance. To be more specific, normal body temperature in dogs is 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. When a pet’s temperature rises above 104.5 degrees, that means the animal’s thermo-regulatory mechanism has failed, and it’s crucial to address the emergency immediately.
Reading the Signs
To tell whether or not your pet may be suffering from heat stroke, look for any of the below indicators. Your pet may have just one of the signs, so if you suspect that he is overheated, do not wait for other signs to show. Be proactive.
• Excessive panting and salivation
• A body temperature over 104 F
• Increased, pounding heart rate
• In the worst cases, seizures and coma
How to Prevent Heat Stroke
• It is particularly important to pay attention to any and all sources of heat and to keep your pets protected from them. Specifically, be mindful of whether your pet is in direct sunlight, walking on hot pavement, or has been extremely active outdoors.
• Do not leave your dog unattended in a car. Even with a cracked window, the temperature inside the car can increase by 40 degrees Fahrenheit within just one hour.
• Have plenty of water available to drink, and make sure to offer shade to your pet.
• Do not overexercise your dog on hot and humid days. Keep in mind that dog’s regulate and dissipate heat by panting, so breeds that have compromised airways (Brachycephalic breeds) such as Bulldogs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Pekingese, Pugs, Lhasa Apsos, etc, will have a harder time using their thermo-regulatory mechanism. In addition, black-coated dogs will accumulate more heat while in the sun compared to light-coated ones.
What To Do
If you suspect your pet’s temperature is approaching dangerous levels, move your pet to a shaded and cool place and direct a fan on him if possible. Try to determine your dog’s rectal temperature with a thermometer so that you can monitor how he’s doing, and how he progresses. Next, begin to cool your pet’s body by placing cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, in the armpits and the groin areas. Directing a fan to these wet parts of the body will help to speed cooling through evaporation. After taking these initial steps, you should immediately contact and transport your pet to the closest veterinary facility.
What Not To Do
Do not use ice or cold water for cooling. Trying to cool your pet with ice or cold water will create vasoconstriction, a condition by which the superficial vessels shrink and create an insulating barrier that traps heat inside of the body, so you could be doing more harm than good. As mentioned above, fast, safe cooling can be more effectively achieved by applying cool, wet towels to the back, armpits, and groin area.
Secondly, do not overcool your pet, as this can lead to another dangerous condition called hypothermia. A reasonable goal is to bring the temperature down to 102.5 to 103 F while the animal is transported to a veterinary facility.
Also, don’t force water into your pet’s mouth. Instead, have fresh, cool water available for him to drink if desired. Finally, you should not leave your pet unattended until his temperature has been regulated and stable for more that 2 hours.
Simply lowering your pet’s body temperature will not address all the internal changes that may have occurred as a result of heat stroke. So, all pets suffering from heat stroke should be seen by a veterinarian. Remember, it is much easier to prevent than to treat heat strokes.