Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stay Cool, Avoid Heat Stroke

Ain't summer great?!!  It offers all those wonderful outdoor activities that our pets can join in with us!  However, I would like to be sure you are aware of the dangers hot weather can pose, as well as a few special situations that you may not have considered.

There are two categories of dogs (and cats, although, due to lifestyle, cats are generally at lower risk than dogs)  I would consider at increased risk for heat stroke by man's design.  Bracheocephalic dogs (you know, the ones whose eyes are even with the end of their noses) are not as efficient at dissipating heat through their respiratory system (panting).  Panting is the major mechanism in cooling a dog's body.  The second category is that of the dogs bred to tolerate cold climates.  These animals have thick, heavy coats.  Dark colored coats will also enhance heat absorption.

The very young or very old pet is certainly more sensitive to extremes in temperature.  Young animals do not have fully developed thermoregulatory mechanisms.  Those at the other end of the age spectrum do not generate or lose heat as readily.

The health status of an animal will contribute significantly to its ability to tolerate heat.  Examples are respiratory tract disorders, cardiovascular (heart) disease, obesity, previous episodes of heat stroke, hyperthyroidism, neurological disorders, certain medications, and obesity (I know I mentioned obesity twice, but there are so many overweight pets!)  If you think your pet fits any of these criteria, consult your veterinarian for advice.

Most importantly, in our humid climate, we have to consider the environment.  First and foremost, cars and hot weather are a deadly combination.  If the mercury climbs above 70 degrees and Fido must stay in a parked car, leave him at home.  While at home, if your dog is the outdoorsy type, provide free access to fresh water and well-ventilated shade.  Remember, just because an area is shady in the morning, it is not necessarily so in the afternoon, and vice versa.  High humidity can contribute to heat stress as well.  Your dog also needs proper acclimation to the heat.  Activity should be in the early morning or late evening, especially if your dog is not in good physical condition.

Finally, any combination of the aforementioned risk factors increases your pet's risk, so if your companion is a 14-year-old obese Pekingese with a cardiac condition who has an affinity for sleeping twenty hours a day on a sofa, beware!

I hope this information is useful and helps make our warm Wisconsin summer more tolerable for man and beast.  If you are concerned about your pets' particular situation, contact your veterinarian.  Be cool and safe.

Brian C. Ray, DVM

No comments: