Here in Australia the red hot summer is upon us (curse you global warming!!) and last week we had several days in a row of temperatures in the 40s (Celsius, that’s above 104 Fahrenheit – holy crap!). Veterinary clinics have seen a huge influx of animals that are badly affected by the heat. This includes dogs and cats, pocket pets and wildlife. Possums and birds have been dropping out of trees and the sad thing is, most can’t be saved once they reach this stage.
What is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke, or hyperthermia, is defined as a severe elevation in body temperature from 40.5° – 43°C (104.9° to 109.4°F) after an animal has been exposed to elevated ambient temperatures or has performed strenuous activity.1 As body temperature rises, adaptive cooling mechanisms like panting and increased blood flow to the skin cease to be effective. Blood pressure decreases, and along with it the blood supply to vital organs is reduced. This can result in widespread organ damage. Aside from effects on the cardiovascular system, the increased temperature can directly damage cells.
I like a hot dog as much as the next person..
What are the Signs my Dog May be Affected
Signs can include excessive panting, vomiting and diarrhoea (sorry Americans, this is the weird way we spell things here in Australia!), profuse salivation, ataxia (loss of coordination of movements), weakness, listlessness, collapse, shaking, and seizures. The thing is, heat stroke can be fatal. We’ve all heard about the tragic cases of dogs (or children!) left in cars on warm days while someone just ducks into a shop. You’ll see how I feel about this below..
The Best Ways to Avoid Heat Stroke
The two most important things are to ensure that animals have adequate access to shade all day and that there is more than enough cool, clean drinking water available. A kiddie ‘clam shell’ pool filled with water can be lovely to take a dip in and also ensures there is plenty of water to drink.
Baxter doesn’t much care for water – this was a VERY hot day
If you’re lucky enough to live near the beach or some other dog-friendly body of water, surf’s up! Just remember not to overdo the exercise and be sunsmart – our pets can get sunburn too!
While Buckley and Ani enjoy the salty sea breeze, Billy just likes the feeling of the waves splashing his privates..
Frozen treats, prepared the night before, are awesome for dogs too. For some recipes that I wouldn’t even mind sampling myself check out 1st world dog.
If the ground is hot enough to burn your bare feet, it’s hot enough to burn sensitive little paws. Forcing a dog to walk on a hot surface is NOT COOL. And remember folks – NEVER EVER LEAVE YOUR PET IN A PARKED CAR. Even if it’s ‘not that hot’ outside, the car is like an oven, and even if the windows are down it can still easily get hot enough to endanger life. Rules vary from country to country and to be honest I don’t even know exactly what the law is here, but if I see an animal or child locked in a car on a hot day I WILL smash a window first and ask questions later. I should definitely get a costume or at least a cape so I can be a legit vigilante…
Or maybe that would just be weird…
And for Those Who Prefer it ‘in a nutshell’ – 7 Things you Need to Know
And in a handy pdf here if you’d like to print with ease (don’t say I never do anything for you!)
Help! My Dog is Showing Signs of Heat Stroke, What do I do?
Right, so you’ve just discovered your dog showing some of the signs mentioned above. Maybe you were out all day and he knocked over his only water source, or maybe a gate swung closed locking her out of the only shady part of the yard. Perhaps you took him for a late morning run, not realizing the luscious thick coat he’s wearing and his inability to dissipate heat by sweating could cause problems. Also be aware that certain breeds (brachycephalics such as pugs and bulldogs) are predisposed. Other risk factors include being very old or very young, and obesity.
So I really hope you’re reading this in preparation for summer days and not after you noticed your pet is affected by heat stroke. If you think your dog has heat stroke, you need to get to a vet – ASAP. Which reminds me, this is something that I can’t stress enough:
THIS BLOG IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR YOUR OWN VET!
I shall illustrate this with a handy quote I found online:
That Lincoln guy was WAY ahead of the times. And he also said this:
Truer words were never spoken.. But as I am wont to do, I digress.
So here is some basic, general advice for dogs exhibiting signs of heat stroke. With a dash of common sense it can be applied to other pets if necessary too. First of all, remove the heat source if possible. If out in the sun, get them inside, in the shade and/or air conditioning. The next thing we want to do is cool them down. There are a few ways to achieve this. You can pour cool water over them, spray them (gently) with a garden hose, immerse them in cool water, or drape them with wet towels. Using a fan to help dissipate heat by convection can also be beneficial. With any method of cooling, use cool water, but NOT ice or iced water. Extreme cold can cause the blood vessels in the skin to react by constricting, and this will cause core body temperature to rise even further. Check your dog’s temperature (this means a thermometer up the bum – I told you to go to the vet!) every 10 – 15 minutes. If the temperature has dropped below 39.5c/103F, stop cooling them immediately. Further cooling can occur very quickly, causing hypothermia and shock in an already compromised animal. Offer a drink of water but please don’t force them to drink.
Aaaand, get to the vet
If your dog is too severely affected to attempt cooling at home, for example if he is collapsed or having seizures, throw a wet towel over him, get him into the car, crank up the air con, and you guessed it, get straight to the vet. Even if you think you have averted a crisis and your dog appears to be fine? Get straight to the vet. The thing is, they may look good externally, but life-threatening complications such as blood clotting problems, organ damage or brain swelling may be quietly brewing.
And again with the nutshell
And here’s the nice printable version
Please Don’t Forget to Leave Water out for Wildlife Too
This is actually me treating a Kookaburra following the Black Saturday Victorian bushfires in 2009
So what tricks do you have to keep your pet cool during the hot weather? I’d love to see some ideas not covered here or some yummy frozen dog treat recipes!
1Ettinger, S (2010). Veterinary Internal Medicine. 7th ed. Missouri: Elsevier. p509.