Now that the “dog days” of summer are upon us (no pun intended!), we need to protect our pets from the heat. Dogs and cats are especially susceptible to heat related injuries due to the simple fact that they cannot sweat. This is also why leaving windows open in a car is not enough, since they regulate their temperatures in a different way than us.
Vehicles heat up very quickly and to much higher temperatures than outside due to limited ventilation and the effects of UV rays condensing through the glass. Temperatures in the 70’s will get up into the 100’s inside a car.
May be hard to believe how important sweating is to our survival, but after seeing a dog with heat stroke it is very much apparent. Sweat glands release excessive heat from our bodies which then condenses on our skin in the form of sweat. This sweat will then further evaporate leaving our bodies nice and cool.
The skin of most fur covered animals does not contain sweat glands; therefore this vital process cannot be used for cooling. Dogs and cats do have minimal sweat glands in the furless pads of their paws, but this is not enough to cool their bodies. Instead, they must use other measures to regulate body temperatures, such as convection, evaporation, and transference.
Convection is the process that warm blooded animals use everyday to regulate their body temperatures. Heat is lost directly from the skin through an increased blood flow to the skin’s surface. This blood flow increases as the outside temperature increases, by increasing your pet’s heart rate and blood pressure.
For this reason, pets with heart conditions have a much harder time in warmer weather. It is also very important to keep your pet groomed regularly to prevent mats/tangles and overgrowth of the undercoat so that convection can work properly by allowing the air to circulate around the skin.
Evaporation is achieved through panting. Panting not only directly releases heat, but also the water portion of saliva will evaporate creating a cooling processes. Dogs with heat exhaustion or heat stroke will produce thick slimy saliva due to evaporation. This will lead to dehydration very quickly; therefore fresh water is extremely important to have available at all times. Dogs with shorter muzzles have a much harder time with cooling down this way.
Transference occurs when heat directly flows from one surface to another, such as from your pet to the floor or ground. This is why many dogs like to lay on cold hard floors. Not because it is comfortable but to regulate their body temperature.
(The same is true for the opposite reason in the winter when they will lay on heat registers.) Laying a pet on a cold floor or cold wet towel will help cool them down, especially if there is contact with the hairless parts of their bodies such as the groin, under the front legs, and abdomen.
What to look for with Heat Stroke
- Heavy Panting
- Drooling (especially a thick slimy drool)
- Weakness and Exhaustion
- Wide blood shot eyes
- Red tongue and gums
- Diarrhea and/or Vomiting
How to cool a Dog with Heat Stroke
Shade – Move to a well ventilated shaded area.
Water – Offer small frequent amounts of fresh cold water but do not force him to drink. May want to offer a bowl of ice also.
Soak in cool water – such as a bath tub or baby pool. Do not use freezing water as this will cause the blood vessels to constrict thus inhibiting the release of heat. Be sure to place cool water or water soaked towels to the hairless areas first since this is where most heat transference will occur.
Place on a cold surface – such as a tile floor, a hole dug in the ground, or a wet towel.
Fan – If possible, use an electric fan which will increase ventilation to the skin’s surface.
Seek Veterinary Care – The more quickly you can get your pet medical attention, the better the prognosis.
The average temperature of dogs and cats is 101.5°F. Temperatures between 104°F to 106°F constitute a moderate heat stroke; whereas temperatures over 106°F are considered a severe heat stroke and immediate veterinary attention is critical. Heat stroke can damage internal organs and be fatal.