Pets get heat stroke for the same reasons that humans do. The body is not able to expel the excess heat fast enough and its core temperature rises so high some organs cannot function. They become less efficient, and if the heat stroke is left untreated, the malfunction or even shut-down begins. The brain, kidneys, and heart are particularly sensitive to excess heat.
If you think your pet is suffering from heat stroke, you need to act quickly. Call you veterinarian immediately. While getting the pet to the veterinary clinic, wrap the animal in towels soaked in cool water. Apply wet towels to the groin and other hairless areas. Ice packs work, too, particularly around the head. If untreated, or treated too late, heatstroke can be fatal. The best cure is prevention.
Some summer don'ts:
- Never, never, never leave your pet in the car unattended! The sun can raise the temperature in the car to 120 degrees in just a few minutes, even with the windows "cracked." If you can't take your pet with you when you reach your destination, then leave your pet at home in the air conditioning.
- Do not leave out antifreeze. Antifreeze tastes and smells good to cats and dogs, but it is extremely toxic. Lapping even a few ounces off the garage floor can lead to irreversible kidney damage.
- Avoid being outdoors at all on really humid days. Neither dogs nor cats have sweat glands in their skin. Although the bottom of the paws do have sweat glands, animals mostly get rid of excess body heat through panting. This system is greatly reduced in very humid conditions.
- Avoid excessive play and exertion in high heat. Dogs particularly are anxious to please their owners. They will fetch that ball, or jog with the owner for as long as their bodies will allow without regard to fatigue and exhaustion. This unwittingly puts them in a position of being susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- Don't misuse flea products. Never use flea products meant for a dog on a cat, and vice versa. Also follow the directions on the box exactly. Over-medicating your pet with flea killer can be harmful and even fatal. The most common pet poisonings are from chemicals used to kill fleas and rodents.
- Water, water, water! Keep an abundant supply of fresh water for your pet at all times. The heat can cause their water to evaporate quickly. Adding ice cubes to the water is a great way to help pets cool down and make the water last longer. Plus, most pets won't drink dirty, stagnant water that has sat out for days. It is crucial to keep your pet hydrated (just like you.)
- Provide adequate shelter from the heat. If your dog is outside, make sure there is plenty of shade to escape the intense sun rays. On really hot days, bring it inside to the air conditioning. Generally, when it is hot to you, it is hot to your pet. So just like us, they are much more comfortable in a cool environment.
- Your pet needs sunscreen, too. Your pet's skin is susceptible to sunburn. It is best to keep your pet out of the sun during the sun's "peak" hours, which are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. But when you are going to be outside for a long period, apply some sunscreen to the sensitive areas, such as ears, area around the lips, and tip of the nose.
- Keep your pet well groomed. Tangles and matted hair can serve to trap dirt, moisture, and bacteria on the skin. This can lead to skin irritation and even infection. Matted hair traps the heat near the skin and hampers the pet's efforts to stay cool.
Things to keep in mind:
Cutting hair shorter can be a two-edged sword. While the shorter hair helps heat trapped near the skin to escape, it also leaves light-colored, sensitive skin exposed to the harsh sun.
When it comes to keeping your pets outside, the shade is good, but if a dog house is not properly ventilated, it can turn into an oven and cause more harm than good.
Dog booties are a resource for a dog that has to be outside, such as search and rescue dogs, or police dogs. If it is so hot that the pavement will burn the dog's paws, then it is best to either walk the dog only in the grass and completely avoid the pavement altogether.
There are many breeds that love water. Getting them into the pool or under a hose is a great way to cool off. Never leave a pet in the pool unattended. You should also dry the dog thoroughly in a cool environment after the hosing..
Pets that are especially vulnerable to the heat:
- "Flat faced" breeds (Bulldogs, Pekinese, Pugs, and Persian Cats). Because of their short, stubby nose, they tend to be more prone to upper respiratory infections. They also seem to be less efficient than other breeds in ridding their body of heat through panting.
- Obese pets. That extra "insulation" of fat makes it more difficult for these animals cool down.
- Elderly pets. Their decreased activity and other impaired organ function associated with age can make the heat dangerous for the older pet.
Signs of heat stroke:
- Excessive, labored panting
- Anxious facial expression
- Warm, dry skin and nose
- High fever
- Rapid heartbeat
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