With the arrival of sunny weather, we all like to spend more time outdoors with our canine friends. While everyone knows the danger of leaving a dog in a car in the summertime, many people don’t realize that overexertion outdoors can also be dangerous.
Heat stroke or hyperthermia is a medical emergency due to an elevation in body temperature that exceeds an animal’s ability to dissipate heat. This results in thermal damage to multiple organs and is potentially life threatening.
Factors contributing to heatstroke include humidity, high temperatures, lack of conditioning and acclimation to summer temperatures, old age, obesity, and water deprivation. Brachycephalic dogs (snub nosed breeds such as Bulldogs and Boston Terriers) can also be predisposed to heatstroke, as are dogs with pre-existing medical problems such as heart disease or seizures. High temperatures can affect even healthy, active dogs if they overexert themselves.
Hyperthermia results in damage to cell membranes and denaturation of enzymes, which leads to cell death. This can damage multiple organs, including the heart, kidneys, central nervous system, and intestines. In severe cases, shock and disseminated intravascular coagulation occurs, often followed by death. Successful treatment requires early recognition and aggressive treatment. These patients need to be rapidly (but carefully) cooled, rehydrated, and well oxygenated. Some require several days of hospitalization and intravenous fluids. Neurological damage is possible even if the pet recovers.
What can you do to prevent this problem? First, avoid overexertion in high temperatures. Second, exercise in the cooler hours of the day. Even fit dogs can over do it – if off leash, your dog may run up to three miles for every one-mile you walk. Carry water with you and offer it regularly. Allow your dog to rest and cool off periodically. If your dog is having trouble breathing and collapses, soak him in cool – but not ice cold – water, if possible, and rush him to a veterinarian.
Even your cat can suffer from heat stroke if left outdoors without water and shelter from the sun.
Enjoying the outdoors with your pet in the warm months can be full of fun for the both you as long as you take caution in the extreme heat.