Dr. Lonnie King – Board member of the ORHS
With our summer temperatures rising above 90 degrees and high humidity, summertime livin’ isn’t always easy. This is especially true when it comes to protecting our pets from the dangers of hot weather. Just remember when it is too hot for us, it is too hot for our pets as well.
Obviously, our dogs and cats have very different physiology than people. First, pets have fur and their coats, in some cases, add an extra burden when they are attempting to cool down. Both dogs and cats sweat through their paws but cannot sweat from their skin like we do, and this sweating is only marginally helpful to them for cooling down. Pets primarily cool down by panting. This allows their saliva to be exposed to the air and to evaporate from their tongues and mouth which helps cool them down. Dog’s blood vessels can dilatate around their head and face which allows more blood to flow from their internal organs closer to the external environment around the face which helps to reduce their temperature. Panting also facilitates the air to circulate through a pet’s body and thus further help reduce its temperature. Cats will commonly lick their coats and groom themselves more in the summer to add saliva to their fur which promotes more evaporation and cooling.
When dogs and cats get overheated and cannot cool down effectively, they may suffer a heat stroke or hyperthermia which can be a serious and life-threatening condition. Certain breeds of dogs and cats that have flat faces like bulldogs, pugs, boxers, shih tzus and Persian cats are especially susceptible to overheating and potential heat strokes because they have restricted and short airways. Pets that are older, obese or have existing heart or respiratory conditions are also at higher risk for these medical conditions in extreme heat.
How Can You Help?
Here are 8 tips for you to follow during our hot summer weather.
What Are the Signs of Heat Stroke and What Should You Do?
Heat stroke or hyperthermia occurs when the body temperature rises significantly above normal levels. A normal dog temperature range is from 100.5 – 102.5 and a normal cat temperature range is from 99.5 – 102.5. It is a myth that one can tell the health or temperature of a pet by checking its nose; the only way to accurately determine a pet’s temperature is by using a thermometer. Taking the pet’s rectal temperature using a human digital thermometer works well. Pets exhibiting signs of heat stroke will have a body temperature of 104 degrees or even much higher. If suffering from a heat stroke a dog or cat will pant heavily and excessively (remember some panting is normal). They may experience increased heart and respiratory rates, drool and salivate profusely, experience weakness or be non-responsive, they may vomit, collapse or have a seizure.
If you believe that your pet is having a heat stroke, get the pet into an air-conditioned home, run cool water (Not Cold!) over the pet especially over its head, neck and chest and then wrap it in a cool, water-soaked towel and then take the pet directly to the veterinarian as this can be a life-threatening condition that will require emergency and expert care. It is helpful to call ahead and let the veterinarian know that you are coming with an emergency so that the veterinary clinic be well prepared when you arrive.