By Damien Chambers
August 10, 2010
Animals love to be outside, especially if they have lots of space to run and play. But when you let your dogs enjoy the outdoors in hot weather, it's a good idea to keep a close eye on them. Humans aren't the only creatures who can get sick or die from heat stroke.
According to REACH, the Regional Emergency Animal Care Hospital, of Asheville, thousands of pets die needlessly each summer from being overexposed to the heat.
Heat stroke in dogs can happen without warning and, if not treated in time, can lead to serious brain injury or death.
REACH's medical director, Dr. Randy Wetzel, described ways that pet owners can prevent their animals from experiencing heat illness.
“If your pet appears anxious or restless or is lying around more often than (usual), then this might be a sign that your animal is beginning to suffer a heat stroke,” he said. “Also if your pet's gums appear brick red or their skin looks pale or purplish, seek immediate medical attention.”
Wetzel recalled a time he had to treat three dogs that a woman brought in.
“She had three dogs that she had left in her van while she ran into the grocery store,” he recalled. “Just as a precaution she left the car running with the windows down and the air conditioner on. However, she ended up in the store longer than she had planned and at some point the A/C unit or the car itself malfunctioned and the dogs suffered a heat stroke.
“I was able to save two, but the third one didn't make it,” Wetzel said.
Eileen Bouressa, executive director of the animal rescue group Animal Compassion Network, said that making sure your dog has water available has a huge impact on keeping the pup cool.
“Be sure to provide a constant supply of water for your animal and a proper receptacle for them to drink from. Some animals can drink water just fine from a bottle that attaches to their pen, but others need a bowl or dish so that they can lap up the water,” she said.
Keep in mind that water bowls may go dry quickly in hot weather. Refill often.
Dogs with thick fur also need to be monitored closely because their fur absorbs heat. A good way to curb this is to trim your dog's fur to a more comfortable level for the animal, Bouressa said.
As for dogs' exposed skin, Bouressa said, “Sunscreen for your dog is also important because dogs can actually get sunburned just like humans.”
But don't share your Coppertone: A number of companies make sunscreen specifically for dogs, available at most pet supply stores. Be sure to follow the directions.
If you suspect that your pet is suffering from a heat stroke, REACH recommends the following steps:
- Find some shade. Get your pet out of the heat.
- Use cool water, not ice water to cool your pet. The ice can cause constriction of blood vessels and interfere with cooling.
- Apply cool, wet cloths on feet, belly and around the head.
- Do not aid body cooling below 103 degrees. It can actually lead to hypothermia in some pets.
- Offer your pet a cube of ice to lick on while you are traveling to the vet but don't force food or water on your animal.
- Get your pet to the vet quickly .
Signs of Heat Stroke
- Intense and rapid breathing
- Wide-eyed look of distress
- Staggering and Weakness
- A body temperature of 104 degrees or higher
- Anxious expression
- Refusal to obey commands
- Rapid heartbeat
- Gums that appear pale or red and dry
- Collapsing in unconsciousness