Robin Maurillo Special for El Ciudadano
Summer is here, as is the season of dehydration and hyperthermia.
Hyperthermia or heat stroke in companion animals is a life-threatening medical condition. It occurs when the animal’s heat regulation mechanism, or thermoregulation, fails. This is the inability of a mammal to maintain its body temperature within a safe range, despite fluctuations in environmental temperature. The internal organs of the body (liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, and brain) begin to shut down as a result of elevated body temperature caused by high temperature and humidity. Humans can lower their body temperature by releasing sweat on the surface of the skin. Companion animals protect themselves from high temperatures by panting and licking their fur. Pets can become dehydrated very easily, more so than humans, as panting is not a very efficient way of lowering body temperature. Hyperthermia is a true medical emergency that requires immediate intervention from your veterinarian to prevent disability or death.
The body temperature of dogs, cats, and horses is approximately 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.2 to 39.2 degrees Celsius). If the environmental temperature is warmer than the internal temperature of the animal, hyperthermia (heat stroke) is a possible reality. Pets with body temperatures of 104 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit can often recover in a short period of time if they receive immediate medical and veterinary attention. Severe hyperthermia occurs at body temperatures over 106 degrees Fahrenheit and can be fatal, requiring immediate veterinary attention.
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Symptoms of hyperthermia are elevated temperature, rapid panting, dilated pupils, bright red tongue and gums (pale in severe cases), capillary refill time of less than 1 second, excessive salivation (drooling), weakness, anxiety, dizziness, or disorientation, muscle tremors, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, nosebleeds, and coma.
If you suspect hyperthermia with a pet, remove the animal from the hot area immediately. Before transporting the pet to the vet, begin to lower the pet’s body temperature by thoroughly moistening it with cold water (for extremely small pets, use lukewarm water) and increasing airflow circulation around the pet, preferably using a fan . Be careful, as using very cold water can be counterproductive. Cooling down too quickly and allowing your body temperature to drop too low (hypothermia) can cause other life-threatening medical conditions. Rectal temperature should be checked every five minutes. Once the body temperature is 103 degrees Fahrenheit, the cooling process should be stopped and the pet should be thoroughly dried to prevent further temperature drop. Take the pet to the vet as soon as possible, even if it appears to be on the mend. The pet could be suffering from dehydration and other complications that your veterinarian will evaluate and treat appropriately.
You can prevent heat stroke in your pet by never leaving your pet in a parked car, even in the coldest months, but especially in hot weather. Brain damage and/or death can occur in as little as 15 minutes. Provide adequate ventilation while traveling with your pet. Make sure your pet has access to a shaded area where it can escape the sun and heat while outdoors. Avoid strenuous activities in high temperatures and humidity. Always ensure an adequate supply of cool, fresh, clean water indoors and outdoors. Limit outdoor exposure in the warmer months between 11 am and 3 pm If possible, keep your pet indoors with air conditioning or a fan on during hot summer days. Remember to be considerate of your pet when out for a walk on hot days, not only because of hyperthermia, but because of the delicate pads on the bottom of their paws, which can burn and blister (a very painful condition).
Pets with predisposing conditions such as heart disease, obesity, advanced age, respiratory problems, or previous hyperthermia are at increased risk of developing hyperthermia. Be diligent in taking the proper steps to avoid hyperthermia. After your pet has been treated for hyperthermia, carefully monitor your pet’s health for possible long-term damage from hyperthermia and talk to your veterinarian if you notice anything unusual.
Plus, cookouts are great for summer cookouts, but too much of a good thing isn’t always the best, especially for our pets who don’t always stop eating when they’ve had enough. Refrain from feeding your pets too much outdoor food scraps, as the change in diet can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and complications. Hyperemesis, diarrhea, dehydration and abdominal discomfort are not the ideal way to celebrate summer.
Contact your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency center immediately when your pet has been affected by the problems of summer.
Robin Maurillo, of Auburn, has worked as a veterinary technician and animal cruelty investigator for several years in central New York.