The calendar suggests summer is waning, but the heat isn't even close to letting up, and pets in the Tampa Bay area are still suffering, even dying, from heatstroke.
I just heard a very sad story about a dog that passed away a couple of weeks ago after succumbing to the devastating effects of heatstroke. The saddest part is that his caretaker took him jogging in the middle of the day. The dog later collapsed and was rushed to the hospital in very bad condition. He could not be saved.
This is good time to remind pet owners and pet caregivers about the precautions that should be taken to avoid heat-related deaths or illness, and some warning signs to watch for.
When it comes to pets, we should realize that it's hotter for them than we think it is. Consider the fur coat they wear, an inability to perspire like we do and the heat index. A heat index calculation reveals how hot it "feels like" outside. On the day that dog died from overexertion and heat exposure, the temperature topped out at 91 degrees and the humidity was about 85 percent. The heat index calculated to somewhere between 113 and 121, according to the NOAA's National Weather Service. (Visit www.nws.noaa.gov/om/heat/index.shtml to determine heat index.)
Fortunately, a heatstroke tragedy is completely preventable if pet owners understand the risks and learn to take precautions or read the danger signs.
According to veterinarian Eddie Garcia, clinic director at Veterinary Medical Clinic in South Tampa, heatstroke occurs when, either through exercise or exposure, a dog's body absorbs more heat than it can dissipate. It is a medical emergency and should be treated immediately upon the recognition of symptoms.
"Heat exhaustion is a result of a domino-like effect resulting from high temperatures and humidity," Garcia says. "Heat has a detrimental effect on body proteins resulting in the death of cells. Dehydration thickens the blood causing slowed circulation and subsequent lack of oxygen. This ultimately leads to severe organ damage or failure."
All of these effects can take place very quickly once a pet becomes overheated.
Pets cool differently than humans
Pet parents should be aware that heat, humidity and sunlight affect people and pets very differently. It is important for us to understand how they cope with overheating so we can prevent situations leading to heatstroke.
Common causes of heatstroke in pets include overexertion in hot, humid weather, being left in an unattended automobile or being left outside without water on a sunny summer day. But even simple activities such as sitting in direct sun exposure or leisurely walking can cause the same medical crisis.
Our pet's heat tolerances are much different from our own, Garcia says.
"A dog may be susceptible to heatstroke under conditions that may not seem uncomfortable, much less life-threatening to humans," Garcia points out. "One reason dogs are more susceptible to the effects of heat than humans is because their skin is different."
We have a distinct advantage over our pets when it comes to coping with heat. Our bodies are cooled when thousands of glands under the skin produce sweat that cools blood temperature as the moisture evaporates.
Dogs and cats only have sweat glands in their noses and the pads of their feet. Very little cooling takes place with minimal evaporating surfaces, so they rely on panting to cool down. Panting allows air to move through the nasal passages, which pick up excess heat from the body. As air is expelled through the mouth, the extra heat leaves with it. Although panting is an efficient means of controlling body heat, it is severely limited in areas with high humidity or when the animal is in close quarters.
A dog or cat's furry coat also plays a role in cooling. Fur offers protection from heat by insulating the body and providing a buffer from direct sunlight on the skin.
Cats keep their cool
Cats are less likely to suffer heatstroke because people don't typically walk or jog with their cats. And outdoor felines are pretty smart about seeking out cool, shady areas. "If a cat suffers from heat exhaustion, it is usually a case where the cat was trapped in a hot area from which it could not escape," Garcia says.
Pets with special challenges
Very young or elderly pets will have a more difficult time regulating body temperature. Overweight pets also are at greater risk of heatstroke, because their extra layers of fat act as insulation, which traps heat and restricts their breathing capabilities.
Garcia points out that dogs with small heads and short noses are more susceptible to heatstroke. Pugs, Pekingese, Boxers, Boston terriers and Bulldogs are poorly built for cooling because their short noses cannot exchange air as effectively as longer nosed dogs.
Limit activity and help pets maintain a healthy weight. Keep walks at a gentle pace and, if your pet seems tired, rest a bit or stop the activity. Limit longer walks to early morning or evenings when the sun is not directly overhead and temperatures are more comfortable. Never exercise pets in the middle of the day.
Never leave your pet or child in the car! Not only is it against the law, but it is very dangerous. The sun can raise the temperature inside your car to 120 degrees or higher in a matter of minutes, even with the windows down.
Keep pets inside on hot days, even if your yard has shady areas.
Whether inside or out, be sure your pet has clean, cool water to drink at all times. Check the bowl several times a day and keep it filled. If you go for a walk or an outing, take plenty of water along.
Keep pets well groomed. This helps their fur do what is intended - protect from sun and insulate from heat. If the coat is matted and tangled, the fur may actually trap heat.
Signs of heatstroke
Rapid or excessive panting
Bright red or purple tongue
Red or pale gums
Glazed eyes or staring
Anxiousness or restlessness
Depression or weakness
Trouble standing or walking
If you suspect your pet has heatstroke, you must act quickly and calmly. Immediately get it indoors or into a shady area. Lower the animal's body temperature by applying towels soaked in cool water to the hairless areas of the body. Offer small amounts of cool water. Get your pet to your veterinarian immediately. Once in the vet's care, treatment may include further cooling techniques, fluids and medication.
Heatstroke may prove fatal even with emergency treatment, so take precautions to avoid potential perils during the dog days of summer.