According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, excessive heat exposure caused 8,015 deaths in the United States between 1979 and 2003 (the last large study). During that period, more American died from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.
If the high temperature and humidity can that deadly an effect on people, imagine their potential to harm pets. Obviously, most people have the ability to control their exposure to extreme temperatures. They can dress appropriately for the weather, grab a bottle of ice water or enter an air-conditioned building to cool down. Yet, with their fur-coated bodies, pets have more insulation and less control over their environments including access to air-conditioning, shade and sometimes water.
It is true that wildlife and even feral dogs and cats have developed adaptive behaviors to deal with the heat. However, they are not confined to yards or porches, they have the ability to follow their instincts, roam and seek water and shade.
Since pets are dependent on their owners to provide those essentials, the consequences of exposure to extreme temperatures can be even more dire for them.
Dogs and cats are equally susceptible to heatstroke. However, outdoor dogs are more likely to suffer its effects. Many owners place their canines in backyards or on tie-outs over concrete driveways or runs.
Sometimes, owners fail to take into account that sun's intensity varies throughout the day in a particular location. An area that receives shade in the morning can be broiling in the afternoon.
So, confined or tethered dogs have little opportunity to escape these environments to seek shade and respite from the heat.
A healthy dog's body temperature ranges between 101 to 102 degrees. Dogs are unable to sweat. They regulate their body temperature by panting to expel heat. If the heat is released too slowly, the body temperature rises. An increase of only three degrees decreases the body's ability to keep up with the demand for oxygen. At 108 degrees, the internal organs such as the brain can start breaking down at a cellular level.
Because of their size and stealth, outdoor cats generally have an easier time finding shade under houses, cars or other spaces until the high temps subside. Their normal body temperature hovers around 100 to 102; the potential for heatstroke and organ damage begin at 104 degrees.
Each summer, the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital treats pets suffering from severe heatstroke. Obviously, pets can't verbally communicate distress, so owners need to learn the warnings signs and remain vigilant. The good news is: If owners recognize the early warning signs of illness and take a few minor precautions, everyone can have a safe summer.
Preventing the Problem
Fortunately, heatstroke in pets is completely and easily preventable with the application of a little common sense.
For example, even if you enjoy a jog or bike ride in the heat, recognize mid-day exercise could have disastrous consequences for your fur-coated friend.
Pets should never be left in a parked car—even with the windows down, in the shade for even a few minutes. On a mild 73-degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach 120 degrees in 30 minutes. On a 90-degree day, the interior of a vehicle can reach 160 degrees in minutes.
The best advice is to simply keep your pets indoors during the heat of the day. All animals benefit from air-conditioning. In fact, it is essential to the health and survival of old or sick pets as well as brachycephalic breeds (such as bulldogs, pugs, Persian cats and others animals with compressed noses that cause year-round breathing problems).
If keeping your critter indoors proves impossible, make sure your outdoor pets have plenty of:
• Shade during the day as the sun rotates
• Water—or ice—in a tip-proof bowl, which cannot be emptied accidentally and allow the animal to become dehydrated during the day
• Shelter from Louisiana's violent pop-up summer storms and ideally,
• Waterworks, like a shallow wading pool or accessible fountain to slosh in or some other way to cool down as temperatures rise.
Recognizing Heat Stress in Pets
In both species, the early signs of heatstroke include:
• Rapid breathing
• Rapid heart rate
• Gums that change from their healthy, light pink color to dull, grayish-pink or red
• Vomiting and
These symptoms can be followed in minutes or days by:
• Clotting disorders or, even,
If your pet exhibits any of these signs:
• Move the animal to a shaded area
• Soak the coat in cool water and
• Get to a veterinarian immediately.
Even after the crisis has passed, veterinarians typically monitor the animals closely for a few days to make sure there’s no additional damage to organ systems.
Click here for this week’s Yelp’s hot dogs who are ready for new homes.
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