Fun in the sun can quickly turn to tragedy if pet owners don’t take precautions to prevent cat and dog heatstroke. Pet heatstroke is common because cats and dogs can’t effectively keep cool in hot summer weather.
Cats and dogs can’t sweat to cool off. For hot dogs, normal panting provides a rapid exchange of cool outside air, and evaporation off the tongue keeps dog temperature normal.
Cats typically don’t pant–they lick and groom themselves and the evaporation off of their fur helps keep them cool. If you see your kitty panting in hot weather, that’s a danger sign that your cool cat is too darn hot!
Some breeds are more at risk. Dogs and cats with smooshed in faces like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Persians have a harder time cooling off even with panting. And when the outside air is the same or greater than pet’s normal body temperature of 101 to 102.5 degrees, deadly heat stroke develops.
Cars and Heat Stroke
Cars become deathtraps in even relatively mild temperatures. On a 78-degree day, a shaded car reaches temperatures of 90 degrees but if parked in the sun, it will reach 160 degrees in minutes.
Leaving the car and air conditioning running is no guarantee of safety. Even extra protection can fail. On July 16, 2003, a Kansas City paper reported that K-9 Officer “Hondo,” a German shepherd dog, died of heatstroke after being left in the still-running air-conditioned police cruiser. The safety system, called a “Hotdog System” designed to protect K-9 officers failed to turn on the sirens, open the windows and turn on the fan when temperatures inside the cruiser reached dangerous levels.
Today, one of the most modern available for police dog safety is the computerized Hot-N-Pop system able to sense when the interior of the vehicle has become too hot for the K9 officer. When that happens, the system automatically rolls down the rear windows (windows have metal screens to prevent the dog from jumping out) and activates large window fans that bring in fresh air to help cool the dog. The Hot-N-Pop also activates the car’s emergency lights and horn, as well as sending a signal to a pager worn by the canine handler.
Of course, most pet parents don’t have a Hot-N-Pop system. So what do you do if you see a pet closed up in a car? I know the first impulse is to break the glass yourself, but you may not have the ability or resources to do that. Use your phone–call animal control or dial 911. These folks have the authority not only to enter someone’s car, but also offer life saving first aid. Also, go inside the nearest business–often a post office or grocery–and get the folks there to announce over the intercom for the pet’s person to get back to the car ASAP. Then stay with the care until you confirm that help has arrived.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
Symptoms of mild heatstroke are body temperature of 104 to 106 degrees, bright red tongue and gums, thick sticky saliva, and rapid panting. When body temperatures go above 106 degrees, the pet’s gums become pale, he acts dizzy, bleeds from the nose or has bloody vomiting and diarrhea, and ultimately becomes comatose. These pets can develop disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) where the red blood cells blow up and can’t carry oxygen.
Getting the temperature down to 104 degrees or less is more important than rushing the pet to the emergency clinic—but severe cases DO need veterinary attention once you give first-aid. Rectal thermometers usually only register as high as 108 degrees and pets with severe heatstroke may have a body temperature that goes off the end and reaches 110 or higher.
For mild heatstroke, bring your puppy into an air-conditioned space and turn on a fan, so the outside temperature is lower than his body temperature and panting can work. Offer ice cubes to lick, or cold Gatorade or Pedialyte or water to drink, and wrap him in cold wet towels.
For severe heatstroke, soak the pet with cold water from the hose, or in the tub or sink. Place ice packs (bags of frozen peas work well) in his “armpit” and groin region where there are major blood vessels. The cold will chill the blood, and as it circulates, will cool the whole body from the inside.
Pets with temperatures at or above 107 degrees need a cold-water enema for even quicker cooling. Use a turkey baster or a contact lens solution bottle filled with ice water if you don’t have an enema bag. Grease the tip with petroleum jelly, K-Y or vegetable oil and insert the tip into the rectum and squeeze gently to fill the cavity with fluid. Once his temperature drops to 104, wrap him up in a towel and get him to the emergency room.
It’s even better to prevent heatstroke in pets by providing shade and lots of cool water, or simply keeping pets inside. NEVER leave pets unattended in cars—that’s just asking for disaster. The ASPCA urges everyone to take the PLEDGE to Save Pet Lives this summer.
Have you ever seen dogs or cats left in hot cars? What did you do? How do you keep your fur-kids cool and safe during summer? Are there fav hot-weather-games they enjoy? Do tell!
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