Keep your pets cool in the heat
By Dr. LISA DARLING
Originally Published: August 5, 2009 9:40 p.m.
No Arizona summer would be complete without talking about how to avoid heat stroke in pets. As soon as the monsoon season starts up again, I remember Chloe, a beautiful golden retriever who liked to go with her family on hiking trips. Her family included two teenage boys who went north to camp and hike during a holiday weekend. She loved hiking, playing fetch with her boys, and being active with her family. But by the time I met Chloe, she was lying down, barely responsive and experiencing seizures. Though they were from Phoenix, her family did not think the temperatures in the Bradshaw Mountains would be any problem for Chloe.Chloe had been hiking with the family for most of the weekend. On their last day, she began to struggle and stumble while on their brief hike before heading home. She was a middle-aged, healthy dog. They had no reason to believe that she couldn't handle the activity of the weekend.But whether it was because it was slightly hotter, the humidity was a little higher or she went farther than on previous days is a moot point now. Chloe started to have a seizure and the family quickly whisked her into the car and headed toward Phoenix. They pulled into our parking lot because they saw our sign and she was getting worse. Her core body temperature was 110 degrees when she came in. Despite our best efforts, Chloe succumbed to heat stroke. I can still hear the two boys sobbing in disbelief that they had just watched their childhood friend die right before their eyes. Only hours before, they were playing fetch on a mountain trail, a game they had played a hundred times before. Panting and sweating through their paw pads are the only means our dogs and cats have of cooling off. Exercise and play in summer weather can quickly bring on heat stroke, and heat stroke can kill. Technically, heat stroke is defined as when the body heats up past 104 degrees because of the temperature around it. It's important to watch for excessive panting, dark or bright red tongue and gums, staggering, difficulty staying awake and alert, seizures, bloody diarrhea or vomiting, coma and death. If it sounds terrible, it's because it is.Brachycephalic breeds such as boxers and pugs, large heavy-coated breeds and those with either heart or respiratory problems are at higher risk for heat stroke and have a harder time withstanding high environmental temperatures. Give your pet frequent breaks, access to air-conditioned rooms, fans, plenty of water and even a pool or bath for the pet to soak in. All of these give a body the chance to cool off. Be on the lookout for the early signs of overheating and overexertion. Heat stroke requires immediate veterinary attention. If you suspect heat stroke, it is important to know the proper first aid techniques while seeking veterinary assistance. Some dogs, if they're alert, like to lick ice cubes. Use cool - not ice cold - water to help lower core body temperature. Extremely cold water causes constriction of the blood vessels and slows down evaporative cooling. The goal is to return the animal's core body temperature to 103 degrees. If allowed to drop too fast, hypothermia can result which is also dangerous. Even if you bring their temperature back down, it is still imperative that a pet who has suffered excessive body temperatures for any length of time be examined by a veterinarian. Internal organ damage and deterioration may still be happening and may go unnoticed until it's too late. Learn how to take your pet's temperature. Make sure that pets have a means to get out of the direct sunlight and provide areas for the pet to cool off - wading pools, air-conditioned or cooled housing, misting systems, and so on.Summer can be a fun time to spend with your pet. Let's remember Chloe and take the precautions necessary to have an enjoyable and safe summer. If you would like additional information regarding the prevention of heat stroke, contact the Yavapai Humane Society or your regular veterinarian.Dr. Lisa Darling, DVM, MBA, shelter veterinarian of the Yavapai Humane Society, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the shelter at 928-445-2666.