Hyperthermia and Heat Stroke
With beautiful summer days come fun in the sun. However, fun can quickly turn to disaster when our pets overheat. Our beloved furry friends can quickly succumb to heat stroke and it can prove fatal. Here’s what you need to know to keep your pet safe.
Hyperthermia (high body temperature) develops when heat production exceeds heat loss. When a pet has an illness, hyperthermia can be secondary to inflammation, bacteria, and viruses. This is known as pyrogenic hyperthermia and can actually be a protective mechanism of the body. When a pet becomes overheated, a whole body inflammatory state results and causes organ dysfunction. This is known as non-pyrogenic hyperthermia, or heat-stroke. A body temperature of 105 F or higher will result in damage to the central nervous system, greater than 106.7 F results in rupture of the cells, and greater than 120 F for 5 minutes results in cell death.
Our pets do not sweat through their skin, as we do. Their main methods of cooling are through panting and sweating through the pads of the feet (evaporation), cool air blowing over the body surface (convection), dilation of the blood vessels (radiation), and transferring body heat to a cool surface (conduction). They also, depending on breed, have a full coat of hair. The darker the hair coat, the more heat that it absorbs. Therefore, it can be difficult to cool themselves in the direct sun and heat of the day.
Avoid leaving your pet in the car or other enclosed structures. In just a few short minutes, these enclosed areas can become dangerously hot. If you absolutely must leave your pet in the car, make sure the air conditioner is running and keep the errand short. A cracked window is not sufficient. You may also want to consider leaving a note on the window for concerned passersby.
Pets that are left outdoors during the day should have access to fresh, cool water at all times. Shade should also be easily accessed. Avoid tethers, as your pet may become entangled and become injured or unable to access water/shelter. A baby pool may be a cooling option as long as the water is kept fresh and free of debris.
Factors that increase your pet’s risk to heat-stroke include elevated humidity, confinement, brachycephalic breeds (pugs, bulldogs, etc.), and patients with conditions affecting the airway such as collapsing trachea and laryngeal paralysis, patients that are obese, patients with heart disease, dark coat, geriatric patients, or those undergoing intense exercise. Walks and jogs should be kept to the cooler hours of the day, such as early morning or later in the evening.
Do not ignore the warning signs. Initially, your pet may began to pant excessively or become lethargic. As heat exhaustion/stroke progresses, your pet may develop dark red gums, ropey thick saliva, tacky or sticky mucus membranes (gums), neurologic signs (drunken walk, seizures, blindness), bruising over the skin, bloody diarrhea, and even death.
If you suspect heat exhaustion or stroke, mist your pet with water. Apply a fan. Place on a cool surface. Avoid ice packs and alcohol on the pads. This may result in constriction of the blood vessels and further trouble cooling. You can take a rectal temperature. If the body temperature is greater than 103 F, immediate cooling is warranted. A temperature over 105 F warrants emergency treatment with your veterinarian. Any questions or concerns should be directed to a veterinary professional.
Remember, our pets get hot just like we do. The difference is we can control our environment. They are relying on us to keep them healthy and safe!