Spring and summer bring elevated outside temperatures which can be life threatening to people and their pets.
Every year hundreds of pets die because they are left in parked cars, tethered outside without shade and water, or exercised in hot, humid weather. Heat stroke is a serious threat in Florida.
Brachycephalic (short nosed) breeds (Pug, Boston Terrier, Bulldog, Pekingese, and Lhasa Apso) can be more susceptible to heat stroke because panting in these breeds is less effective in decreasing body temperature compared to others.
Young dogs that overexert themselves and older dogs with pre-existing diseases are also vulnerable. Dogs have sweat glands only on their feet so sweating will not cool them like it does for us.
A normal temperature in a dog or cat is around 101.5 degrees plus or minus 1-2 degrees. It is considered an emergency when a dog or cat’s temperature rises above 105 degrees. Extremely elevated body temperatures can cause multi-systemic organ failure leading to death.
Symptoms of heat stroke include restlessness, panting, excessive drooling, unsteadiness, bright red gums, muscle tremors, seizures, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, bloody vomit or feces, shock, cardiac arrest, and/or behavior changes.
If your pet is showing these signs, remove your pet from the heat source. It would make perfect sense to use ice-cold water to decrease core body temperature; however emerging a dog that is suffering from heat stroke in an ice-cold bath could cause serious complications.
This may cause constriction of the blood vessels in the skin, which will trap heat inside the body. Tap water (room temperature on slightly cool) is recommended in order to cool a heat stroke victim. The goal is to decrease the body temperature to about 103 degrees.
If your dog has heat stroke, it is important that you do not leave him/her unattended for at least 24 hours. Take your pet to a veterinarian immediately to be monitored for serious complications. Some of the symptoms noted above may not occur until later in the day.
Leaving pets in a car to run a quick errand can be deadly as temperatures in a parked car may increase by 40 degrees within one hour. Even on a relatively cool day (70 degrees) dogs have perished when left in a parked car. Cracking a window will not make a difference even if the car is parked in the shade.
If you love your pet enough to take them with you, then love them enough to never leave them in a car with the ignition off.
Kim Donovan, D.V.M., is an associate veterinarian and medical director at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital in Seminole with 14 years experience and a special interest in feline medicine.