with continued record temperatures that affect the planet, it is essential that we take into account the needs of our pets, who are especially susceptible to heat stress. Regardless of the global warming phenomenon taking place, heat-related injuries such as heat stroke are common problems veterinarians encounter in our patients during the summer months. However, there are some essential steps pet owners can take to keep their furry loved ones safe and avoid emergency visits to the hospital.
Heat stroke in pets is a condition in which they become overheated, with body temperatures exceeding 103 degrees Fahrenheit; If left untreated, this can lead to a life-threatening situation. Unlike humans who remove excess heat through sweat, a process that allows us to cool down by evaporating moisture from our skin, dogs dissipate heat by panting. The evaporation of moisture from the nose and lungs through rapid inhalation and exhalation allows them to remove heat.
However, when ambient temperatures are excessively high, with no availability of shade or cooler indoor areas for shelter, no amount of panting can help cool affected pets. Also, this evaporation mechanism to remove heat is greatly hampered in high humidity conditions. This is why veterinarians stress the importance of keeping pets inside during the hottest periods of the day, as well as ensuring access to shade and plenty of water sources.
Similarly, leaving dogs locked in cars, even with the windows open, is unanimously condemned by veterinarians. In just 10 minutes, the temperature inside a car on an 85-degree day can quickly rise to 102 degrees, so even rushing into the store and leaving your pet in the car is not recommended. If a dog is confined within these oven-like conditions, they are unable to compensate, and the resulting dehydration and damage to internal organs can lead to a medical emergency and tragic deaths.
“Brachycephalic” or “flat-faced” breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs, are particularly vulnerable to heat stress due to their shorter snouts and thus reduced ability to regulate temperature through panting. Pets with pre-existing respiratory or heart conditions, as well as older and overweight pets are also higher risk candidates. Therefore, even greater care must be taken to observe warning signs of distress in these patients and to avoid dangerous situations.
While it is beneficial to maintain our pets’ exercise routines for optimal health, the hottest periods of the day can present significant risks of heat stroke and should be avoided. Exercising your pet during periods of intense sunlight or high temperatures can cause them to become dangerously overexerted. Therefore, the limitation of outdoor exercise in these conditions should be prioritized. It’s also important to note that prolonged exposure to the sun can put them at increased risk of sun damage leading to skin cancer; As in humans, melanoma is a cancer that can negatively affect our pets.
If you take pets for a walk, it is essential to consider the impact of concrete and asphalt surfaces exposed to the scorching sun. Contrary to popular belief, our pets’ seemingly tough paws are quite sensitive and prone to physical assaults, including heat injuries. Therefore, my recommendation would be to feel the pavement with the back of your hand before walking, to determine if it is a suitable and safe temperature and therefore protect your paws from possible damage.
Pets often have a hard time showing or telling us when they’re upset, so it’s important to keep an eye out for the warning signs of heat stroke; these can include excessive panting and shortness of breath, restlessness, dizziness, rapid heart rate, lethargy, lack of response to stimulation, a glassy facial expression, collapse, and even seizures.
If you notice that your pet is experiencing possible signs of heat stress, it is important to implement cooling methods, such as providing cold water for drinking, applying cold water-soaked towels to their paws and fur, keeping them inside air-conditioned spaces, and consulting immediately with your vet. Any critical signs of heat stroke, such as unresponsiveness or collapse, require immediate veterinary attention; time is of the essence and taking them straight to the hospital for emergency treatment could save your pet’s life.
This summer season has had an impact on all of us, but our pets completely depend on pet parents being as informed as possible about these dangers. With a little knowledge and these simple veterinary tips, you can help protect your beloved pets from the most preventable causes of heat injury.
Dr. Sy Woon is a practicing veterinarian who is one of the Florida Veterinary Medical Association Humane Society Representatives, as well as the founder of PetParentsPro Studios, a video platform designed to provide free education to owners Of pets.