Taking care of your pets when the heat is on
By IVY JACOBS, Times Reporter
Unlike humans, whose sweating skin keeps them cool, pets like cats and dogs rely on panting and sweat glands between their toes. But it's not enough to carry body heat away.
Veterinarian/Owner of Four Loving Paws Veterinary Services John C. Shepherd and resident veterinarian Nancy Schenck recently spoke about the dangers of summer heat and pets.
"If it's really hot, you're outside five minutes and then you have to come in, then your pets are going to feel the same way," Shepherd said. "Any animal can get overheated."
Pets, explained Shepherd, kept in climate-controlled homes are less likely to be distressed by extreme temperatures -- whether cold or hot. Indoor/outdoor pets, especially cats, are adventurous and are usually able to roam about which allows them to seek cool places and sources of water.
"Unfortunately, dogs are supposed to be and usually are kept in confined spaces," Schenck said. "But they can't go find shade or water when they need it."
"That's why heat stress and heat stroke is more common in dogs," Shepherd said. "It happens usually in the summer, but can also happen anytime of the year."
Heat stress, an early symptom of an animal becoming overheated, causes anxiety in a dog.
"A dog will get anxious, sometimes a little wide-eyed and panting probably a little bit more than usual," Schenck said. "Their face will pull back, their eyes will pull back, they're just anxious."
Both veterinarians said it will be very obvious to pet owners that there is something wrong with their dog, which can appear dazed and confused.
"Another good sign is that their mouths will be bright pink or red because of the panting," Shepherd said. "They only have the amount of space inside their mouths to use to cool off with."
Heat exhaustion will cause a dog to be weak, lethargic and can experience vomiting and diarrhea. A dog can also have seizures and collapse at this point.
"Panting helps dispel some heat, but it really isn't very efficient," Schenck said. "They need to be moved into the shade immediately and taken care of if an owner sees signs of heat stress or exhaustion. When we become pet owners, we take on that responsibility of taking care of them since they are not free to roam anymore and take care of themselves."
Dogs who are not in good health or are predisposed to breathing problems -- like dogs with short snouts such as bulldogs, pugs and many other breeds -- need to be watched closely.
"It's all about being able to dispel the heat through panting," Shepherd said. "You can put some rubbing alcohol on a dog's paws and under the pits of their legs to help cool them down. But don't cool them down too quickly. That can be just as harmful. Don't believe in the old wives' take about an ice bath, use water a little bit cooler than tap water to start with."
Other common causes of heat stroke include: a previous episode of heat stroke, leaving a dog in a parked car, excessive exercise in hot, humid weather (which could be exercise the dog can usually handle, but not in warmer weather), lack of appropriate shelter outdoors, thicker-coated dogs in warm weather and underlying disease such as upper airway, heart of lung disease.
Heat stroke (hyperthermia) occurs when a dog severely overheats.
Schenck said the best way to determine if a dog is experiencing heat issues is by using a rectal thermometer to take their temperature, which should never exceed 104°."
Taking a dog's temperature is not a hard thing to do. People can learn how to do it," she said. "Having a thermometer dedicated for the pet is important to their health care."
Other signs and symptoms of heat stroke include: collapse, bloody diarrhea or vomit, depression/stupor, seizures or coma, excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart rate and extreme salivation.
"The only real delay in getting treatment for an animal in distress is how long it takes to get them to a veterinarian hospital. We like to get to them before it gets to that phase or any worse," Shepherd said, adding that animals reaching that point, even if saved, can have lasting damage and health problems. "But we are never too busy to see an animal in an emergency situation. We stop what we are doing and assist an animal in crisis."
Shepherd said some communities, like in the Indianapolis area, have passed ordinances specifically regarding the weather temperatures and pet owners to insure the safety of animals."
(In Indianapolis) I think 80° or higher a pet has to have a some form of cool shelter, 90° or higher and they have to be indoors," Shepherd said. "There have been some instances (in communities) where exact temperatures have been set."
Schenck also pointed out that hyperactive animals who bark and run up and down their pens can run up their temperatures even when it's not hot.
"Go outside and make sure to try and keep them calm, especially if you know the bus coming home after school or the mailman will rile up your pet," she said. "Or just bring them inside at that time to protect them. That might be ok at 68°, or even 80°, but hyper-excitable dogs could get overheated."
The best thing a pet owner can do for a dog, according to Shepherd, is be aware of their pet's health and the surroundings.
"It's not ideal to put a dog in a stressful situation and they don't have access to water, shelter those types of things it's just going to precipitate the problem on hot days," he said. "Humidity is also a big deal. There's a lot of factors involved and each animal responds differently."
Pet responsibility is important.
"The one thing people need to take away from all this is that once we pick a pet we are responsible for it," Schenck said. "A dog in the wild will go find a creek, shade or something like a cool mud hole to cool off in. We take that away from them when we make them pets and put them in yards and confine them. So then it becomes our job to take care of them. We have to oversee all that because we have imprisoned them and they can't take care of themselves anymore."
What to do if your dog is in a heat-related crisis?
According to veterinarians, if heat stroke is suspected pet owners need to take immediate action:
* Get the dog out of direct heat and check for shock,
* Take the dog's temperature,* Spray cool water or place water-soaked towels on the dog's head, neck, feet and chest/abdomen area,* Turn on a fan and point it in the dog's direction,
* Rub small amounts of Isopropyl alcohol (70 percent) on the dog's foot pads to help cool the animal but don't use large quantities as it can be toxic if ingested,
* And retake the dog's temperature to see if it has dropped to 103° in the first 10-15 minutes.
Once 103° F is reached, stop the cooling process because the dog's body temperature will continue to decrease and can plummet dangerously low continuing to cool the dog for too long.
Even if successful in cooling down to 103° F in the first 10-15 minutes, the dog still needs to go to a veterinarian as soon as possible because consequences of heat stroke will not show up for hours, even days. Potential health problems include abnormal heart rhythms, kidney failure, neurological problems and respiratory arrest.
If you have a question or pet-related topic for Dr. Schenck to discuss in an upcoming article, email it to
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