Heat and Humidity – A Lethal Combination
By Dr. Lisa Aumiller, June 15, 2015, also published in the Burlington County Times Pet Project Column
In the last two weeks, I have treated four patients for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. All four of my patients were very loved family members. None of them were left a closed in car, left in a drying cage, or neglected like the stories we hear in the news. One pet who has a doggie door, was laying outside on the deck sleeping. One pet was at a weekend town event and his owner had plenty of water to share. The third pet was hanging out in the owner’s car with the hatchback and windows open for the 10 minutes the owner loaded some plants at a local farm. The fourth pet was a silly labrador playing fetch and seemed find until heat exhaustion set in. All four owners were just enjoying the day with their pet and unaware that heat stroke was even a possibility.
Hyperthermia is when the body’s core temperature rises above normal which in a dog is 102-103 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat Stroke occurs when the hyperthermia is extreme reaching temperatures of 106-109 degrees F. Dogs dissipate heat through panting. Heat stroke occurs when either their mechanisms for heat dissipation are affected or if environmental factors contribute to an increase in their body temperature. Pets that are brachycephalic (smushed face), have upper airway disease ( eg laryngeal paralysis, collapsing trachea), heart problems, anxiety, or very young or very old pets are the most susceptible to having heat stroke. Environmental factors such as increased humidity, lack of water, lack of shade, increased exercise, poor ventilation, or quick temperature changes in which pet hasnt had the chance to acclimate are common reasons that can contribute to heat stroke.
Once body temperatures rise to the point of heat stroke the pet can quickly suffer irreversible mulitsystem organ dysfunction. High temperatures can effect the following: renal system (kidneys), hepatic system (liver), respiratory and cardiac system, coagulation system, central nervous system, and gastointestinal system. Mortality rates of pet affected with temperatures 109 and above is as high as 50%.
Prevention and preparedness is the key to keeping your pet safe! Educating yourself about heat stoke and more importantly avoiding situations that may increase the chances of your pet having heat stroke is the most important thing you can do. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat stroke are also very important. Finally, knowing how to act quick and treat your pet in the event you see the signs of a problem can be lifesaving.
Signs of heat stroke
– excessive drooling
– reddened gums
– increased breathing rates (belly breathing or labored breathing)
– decreased urine production
– inability to stand
– muscle tremors
– bloody stool
If you see any of these signs. Please take your pet’s temperature rectally. If you do not have a thermometer designated for your pet- Please get one!
If the worse happens and your pets succumbs to signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke immediate action is needed to cool your pet. Wet the pet with luke warm water (cold can shock their system) and wet towels with luke warm water and place the towels over their body. Quickly get the pet to the vet (ok to transport with wet towels on the pet). Veterinarians will often use Intravenous fluids to further cool the pet and to aid in rehydration. The veterinary staff will monitor the pet’s temperature and their organ function. In severe cases, blood products and supplemental oxygen may be administered to the pet suffering from hyperthermia.
Summer is such a nice time for pets and their owners to enjoy everything the great outdoors has to offer. Please, when it is very hot and humid, consider outdoor adventures with you pet in the early morning or late at night. Pet friendly races and community events are only “pet friendly” if the weather is also pet friendly. If it is too hot please consider leaving Fido at home where it is nice and cool.
As always, thanks for reading on how to keep your furbabies safe.
Have a great week! Dr. Lisa Aumiller, Veterinarian