Spring has sprung and warm weather is close behind! But while we’re still a ways out from those beach trips with your canine friends, there is one summer surprise that can make an unseasonal appearance- and unfortunately it’s not a fun one. Today we’re talking heat stroke: what is it, what can you do to prevent it, and how should you handle it if it happens?
What is heat stroke?
How do you cool off on a hot summer day? Maybe you crank the air conditioning or enjoy a delicious frozen snack, and your body probably sweats off as much heat as it can. But dogs barely have any sweat glands, and their paws aren’t very good at working the knob on the AC. So they’re at a much higher risk of heat stroke than we are!
If the air temperature gets higher than your pet’s body temperature, or high enough that they can’t discharge heat effectively, then their body temperature can start to spike. This can have a number of nasty effects, including damage to the gastrointestinal tract, eyes, and brain. If left untreated, heat stroke can quickly prove fatal.
When can heat stroke occur?
We know what you’re thinking: “Posting about heat stroke during a New England April? That’s a little premature, isn’t it?” But heat stroke can happen more easily than you think! One of the leading causes of year-round heat stroke is leaving a dog in a car; the American Veterinary Medical Association reports that the temperature inside a car can get more than forty degrees higher than the outside temperature over the course of an hour. That means a breezy 60 degrees can become a sweltering 100 for your poor stranded pup!
There are certain risk factors that can make your dog more susceptible to heat stroke as well. Brachycephalic dogs (the fancy medical term for short-nosed dogs like pugs and bulldogs) and dogs with heavy coats are at an increased risk, along with dogs who are elderly or obese, and dogs with certain pre-existing conditions such as hyperthyroidism or heart disease.
Cats can also suffer from heat stroke, but are at a lower risk thanks to their penchant for lazily lounging around the house. But you should still make sure your cat has a cool, cozy space to relax during those hot summer months!
Spotting the Signs
How can you tell if your dog might be suffering from heat stroke? The most reliable way is to put them through veterinary school so they can diagnose themselves if needed, but if that’s not a viable option there are a few key signs you can watch out for instead.
The most telltale sign of potential heat stroke is excessive panting. Since dogs don’t sweat, panting is their main way of regulating their body temperature. More panting means more heat to get rid of, and more risk of not being able to keep up. Other notable symptoms include pale or flushed gums, lethargy, disorientation, bloodshot eyes, or seizing.
Beat the Heat (Stroke)
If you believe your pet is suffering from heat stroke you should have them seen with us or an emergency hospital as quickly as possible, but there are a few additional steps you can take to vastly improve your pup’s prognosis. Dousing them with cold water from a hose, bath, or sink can help to lower their body temperature, as can ice packs placed around the armpits and belly. Avoid covering your dog with wet towels, as this will actually trap heat against their body and prevent them from cooling. Once your dog’s in the car crank the air conditioning or roll down the windows, and if you’re on your way to an emergency hospital call ahead to let them know when you’ll be there.
An Ounce of Prevention…
Is worth avoiding some very expensive ER bills! Heat stroke is a fully preventable condition, and with just a few adjustments to your warm weather activities you can help protect your pet from this thermodynamic threat. Always make sure your pet has access to fresh water and keep a water bottle on you if you’re going outside. Avoid going out for walks during the hottest parts of the day, and never ever leave your pet alone in your car! And as always, if you have any questions or are concerned something might be wrong with your pet, give us a call! Our staff are always happy to help you and your pets keep your cool.