High Summer Temperatures Present Heat Stroke Risk for Pets

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By Ginger Guttner, LSU School of Veterinary Medicine Director of Public Relations

    Now that summer is here, it’s good to remember that pets require special care to avoid heatstroke. Dogs cannot tell us when they feel hot, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our pets have sufficient shelter from the sun, an adequate supply of water to drink, and a way to cool off as the heat rises. Be aware of these essential needs when leaving your pets outside during the day. Moreover, do not forget that at this time of the year, it is life-threatening to leave pets in hot cars, even if they are parked in the shade, and even for just a few minutes! Each summer, the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital sees several heatstroke cases.

     A dog’s body temperature is normally between 101°F and 102°F. Dogs do not sweat like people; they regulate their body temperature by panting; panting expels the heat. If the heat is not expelled efficiently, the body temperature rises. A rise of three degrees in a dog to a temperature of 105°F is life threatening, and when the dog’s temperature hits 108°F, the result is often fatal.

    Early signs of heatstroke are rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, a change in gum color (often bright red or pale), and weakness. Vomiting and diarrhea can also be observed. Heat stroke is an absolute emergency! If your dog exhibits these signs, move him to a shaded area, soak the coat in cool water, and get him to a veterinarian immediately. These signs can be followed in minutes or days by collapse, seizure, coma, blood clotting disorders, and death. All pets with heatstroke need to be treated immediately and monitored carefully for three to five days.

    If your pet requires medical care after-hours, you can bring your pet to the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital on Skip Bertman Drive; the hospital is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and remains open even during disasters such as hurricanes. For emergencies, please call 225-578-9600 or bring your dog directly to the LSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

    The most important aid in heatstroke is prevention. Pay attention to your pet’s body language and be mindful when your pet is stressed, tired, or acting hot. Please ensure that your outdoor pets have plenty of shade and water and never leave your pets in a parked car, even with the windows down. Make sure that your pet has a tip-proof bowl, so that he can’t spill his water bowl while you’re not at home. Lastly, do not go jogging or biking with your dog at midday during the summer. Even if you enjoy a jog or bike ride in the heat, it could have disastrous consequences for your dog. Plan walks for the early morning or late evening hours when the temperature is relatively low. All breeds of dogs are at risk for heat stroke. Pets with long hair, black hair and those with “brachycephalic” or short-faced conformation (i.e., pugs and bull dogs) are especially at risk. With a few minor precautions, you and your pets can have a safe and happy summer.

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