We have all heard horror stories about animals dying when left unattended in cars. It takes only minutes for the summer temperature to reach a level that can be fatal to a dog or cat.
These pets have very few sweat glands and therefore don't perspire the same way we do. They pant to rid themselves of extra heat, but that, unfortunately, is a very inefficient way of dissipating warmth; indeed, the process actually generates some heat. This problem is magnified in a small, enclosed space.
What is often not emphasized is that animals can experience heat exhaustion or heatstroke without being in a car. When the ambient temperature reaches triple digits, this tragedy can occur with pets just being outside. This is especially true for very young, older or overweight animals. Companions with underlying health problems also are at an increased risk, as are breeds with shorter noses.
Heat exhaustion is a life-threatening emergency that calls for immediate medical attention. It occurs when high temperatures and humidity trigger a shutdown of the pet's internal organs. The normal body temperature for dogs and cats varies but usually falls in the range of 99 to 102 degrees. With heatstroke, that number climbs to 104 degrees and beyond. As this value escalates, brain damage can occur.
Symptoms of heatstroke include disorientation, salivating, panting, dark red or pale gums, weakness, increased heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle tremors, seizures, collapse, coma and, ultimately, death. If you see any of these signs, take your pet immediately to your veterinarian or the nearest emergency facility. You can place a cool, wet cloth over the animal in the meantime.
Treatment may include hospitalization, IV fluids, blood-value monitoring, water immersion, oxygen and anticoagulants. The sooner care is administered, the better the prognosis. Sadly, irreversible organ damage is common.
There are several things you can do to prevent heatstroke in your pets. Keep them indoors on hot days, especially during the hottest portions of the day from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. If they must stay outside, make sure there is plenty of shade.
Keep them well hydrated by providing several sources of water and add ice cubes to keep the water cooler, which will entice them to drink. Misters also can be set up.
In addition, there are high-tech cooling bedding materials and bandanas available. Finally, it is not advised to exercise or exert your pet a lot on these extra warm days.