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Ask the Pet Vet: Heat stroke in pets can cause death. Know the signs

Hot dogs … and cats! Heat stroke is a danger to your pet.

Having recently moved to one of the hottest places on Earth (Palm Desert, CA), I am very much aware of the dangers of extreme heat for pets and their owners. It really doesn’t even need to be extreme heat to put your pet at risk; a dog in a car for 10 minutes in 75-degree weather is exposed to temperatures exceeding 120! A dog on a strenuous walk in the sun on a mild day can also fall prey to heat exhaustion.

Avoid expensive trips to the vet and even the death of your pet

  • Avoid taking your pet out for exercise during the peak of the heat and sun. Try early morning or evening for daily walks. If it is hot, please avoid running with your dog.
  • Acclimate your dog when the temperature rises. It takes about 60 days for him to reset his body to the higher temps.
  • Avoid heat traps: black asphalt and concrete with no shade.
  • Provide plenty of cool (not cold) water when exercising.
  • Do not let your pet run and exercise vigorously on hot pavement. If your pet has not developed heavy calluses on his pads, blisters and burns can occur. I’ve treated many raw and ugly dog pads in an emergency after his owner let him run around the pool chasing a ball. 

Never, and I mean NEVER, leave a pet in a car (or RV without A/C), even with the windows open. This is the quickest and, unfortunately, a common cause of heat stroke and death of pets. 

Heat stroke is a horrible illness because once it starts, it is difficult to reverse even when your pet is in critical care at the clinic. When a dog’s temperature rises above 105 degrees (normal is 101.5), her systems begin to compensate and, if left long enough, her systems and organs will begin to fail, leading to death. 

Signs of heat stroke in pets

  • Excessive panting
  • Collapse and stupor
  • Gums and tongue dry and either bright red (early) or pale and muddy brown or grey (later)
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Noisy breathing, heaving
  • Bloody nose, gums
  • Paws and ears may even feel cool

Heat stroke in pets requires an immediate trip to the emergency clinic

Here is what to do while getting your pet to the vet:

  • Move your pet to a shady, cool place. Tile floors work well.
  • Start evaporative cooling by spraying your pet with cool water and using a fan. Avoid leaving wet towels on your dog since this may slow evaporative cooling. I wet their ears and paws quite a bit. 
  • If your pet is awake and responsive, let him slowly lap cool (not cold) water.

Note: In all cases, do NOT use ICE WATER. Cool tap water is fine.

The prognosis is guarded even if caught early, so the best thing is to avoid it. 

Given I live in the desert, I always worry about power outages and the A/C shutting down while I am away. An RV is a metal box heated by the sun; without A/C, it is an oven. I invested in a temperature monitor called Waggle that sends a text/email to my phone if the temperature hits a maximum level. If the power quits and the house or RV heats up, I will know about it quickly. It will send a signal if your Wi-Fi is out and it cannot transmit. Read Tony Barthel’s review of Waggle here.

Waggle’s monthly/yearly subscription is reasonable given the peace of mind it provides. You can buy one on Amazon here.

Andy Roark, DVM, did some humorous but pertinent videos on the risk of heat for your pets. 

##RVT1062

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