Soaring temperatures increase risk of heatstroke for pets

Now that summer is here, it's good to remember that pets require special care to avoid heatstroke. Dogs cannot tell us when they feel hot, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our pets have sufficient shelter from the sun, an adequate supply of water to drink, and a way to cool off as the heat rises. Be aware of these essential needs when leaving your pets outside during the day. Moreover, do not forget that at this time of the year, it is life-threatening to leave pets in hot cars, even if they are parked in the shade, and even for just a few minutes! Each summer, the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital sees several heatstroke cases.

A dog's body temperature is normally between 101°F and 102°F. Dogs do not sweat like people; they regulate their body temperature by panting; panting expels the heat. If the heat is not expelled fast enough, the body temperature rises. A rise of three degrees to a temperature of 105°F can cause the dog to have problems keeping up with his body's demand for oxygen. When the temperature hits 108°F, the internal organs such as the brain can start breaking down at a cellular level.

Puppies and kittens as well as older dogs and cats are predisposed. Also, brachycephalic breeds (those with short snouts or muzzles such as pugs and bulldogs) are at increased risk.

Early signs of heatstroke are rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, and gums that change from their healthy light pink color to bright red or even dull, grayish-pink. Vomiting and diarrhea can also be observed. Heat stroke is an absolute emergency! If your dog exhibits these signs, move him to a shaded area, soak the coat in cool water, and get him to a veterinarian immediately. These signs can be followed in minutes or days by collapse, seizure, coma, clotting disorders, and death. All pets with heatstroke need to be treated immediately and monitored carefully for a few days.

If medical care is needed after-hours, you can bring your pet to the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital on Skip Bertman Drive; the hospital is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. 

The most important aid in heatstroke is prevention, so please ensure that your outdoor pets have plenty of shade and water and never leave your pets in a parked car, even with the windows down. Make sure that your pet has a tip-proof bowl, so that he can't spill his water bowl while you're not at home. Lastly, do not go jogging or biking with your dog at midday during the summer. Even if you enjoy a jog or bike ride in the heat, it could have disastrous consequences for your dog. Plan walks for the early morning or late evening hours when the temperature is relatively low. With a few minor precautions, you and your pets can have a safe and happy summer.

Thanks to Ginger Guttner of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine for this helpful advice!

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