Mar 30 2012

Heat Stroke & Your Pets

Dr. Jacqueline Nicholson

Summer will be here before you know it – and summer is a great time to be a dog. The kids are out of school. Outdoor activities are abundant. The days are long. People tend to have more social gatherings – and most of those people want to play with the dog.

Unfortunately, the summer can also be dangerous. Playing with your dog on a hot summer day can bring on a deadly case of heatstroke. Hyperthermia may be a life-threatening condition, and does require immediate treatment. The fastest way to get your dog into trouble is to leave him in the car. Even a few minutes in a car on a warm day can kill a dog – so don’t take the chance. Heatstroke can also occur when an animal is left outdoors in the heat without adequate shade.

Knowing what to look out for is half the battle. Glassy eyes and severe panting indicate a dog that needs help. 
As hyperthermia progresses, the pet may drool large amounts of saliva or become unsteady on his feet. You may notice the gums turning blue or bright red in color – which is due to inadequate oxygen.

If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke:

  • Move your pet to a cool environment and direct a fan on them as soon as possible.
  • Place cool, wet towels over the back of the neck, in the armpits, and in the groin region. You may also wet the paws with cool water. Directing a fan on these areas will help to speed cooling.
  • Transport your pet to the closest veterinary facility as soon as possible.

Intuitively, you may be tempted to do the following, but:

  • AVOID using cold water or ice for cooling. Cooling your pet too rapidly can also be dangerous. Cooling the innermost structures of the body will actually be delayed, as the ice will cause superficial blood vessels to constrict, forming an insulating layer of tissue to hold the heat inside. Tap water is more effective for cooling.
  • DO NOT force water into your pet’s mouth. You should always have fresh, cool water ready to offer – in case they show an interest in drinking.

Dogs rely on us to keep them out of trouble. Remember that older, obese or short-nosed dogs are less heat-tolerant. I will tell pet owners that if it’s too warm for a small child to stand outside, it’s too warm for their pet. All dogs need constant access to shade and an endless supply of cool, clean water.

Severe hyperthermia is a disease that affects nearly every system in the body. A pet suffering from hyperthermia should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Be sure to keep your pets cool and calm during the hottest part of the day. Have a safe and enjoyable summer!

Dr. Nicholson graduated from the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She was born in New York City and raised in northern New Jersey. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Alfred University and completed a post-Baccalaureate / Pre-Veterinary Program at Rutgers University.

Over the last nine years, Dr. Nicholson has gained an extensive amount of experience at emergency and specialist hospitals in both New York and New Jersey – including The Animal Medical Center in New York City. After graduation, she completed a one year rotating internship program at Garden State Veterinary Specialists where she was exposed to a wide range of specialty fields including Emergency Medicine, Surgery, Internal Medicine, Oncology, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and Neurology. This experience will be invaluable to both our team and our clients.

By Jacqueline Nicholson, DVM

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