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Heatstroke and Other Summer Pet Dangers

Summer’s heat can be hard on your furry – or even feathered – friends. Exposure to heat and humidity can cause a variety of ills from foot pad and skin issues to heat stroke. Your beloved companions can’t sweat – panting is the only way a cat or dog’s body can release heat and that’s what makes them more vulnerable to overheating. The results can be scary, but the good news is that there is a lot you can do as a pet mom or dad to mitigate the potential effects.

The best advice is prevention: Limit your pet’s exposure to heat.

• Do NOT ever leave them in a locked car in the heat – even if the window is open. Temperatures inside a car can reach 140 degrees or more within minutes.
• Leave the A/C on during the day when you aren’t home – and your pets are.
• Be especially cautious with young animals and senior pets.
• Make sure your pet has plenty of clean water to drink at all times.

Other than exposure per se, risk factors for heat exhaustion and heat stroke include being overweight and heart disease. Breeds like pugs and bulldogs with a shorter snout have a more difficult time panting away their body heat and so are more vulnerable. These breeds include French bulldogs, boxers and Saint Bernards among others. Cats with their shorter muzzles are also more vulnerable to the effects of heat.

Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stroke
Keep an eye out particularly during those first few weeks of summer weather – your pet’s body takes a while to acclimatize to the season.
What it is: Heat exhaustion is the beginnings of heat stroke and will lead to it if unchecked. Heat stroke is simply caused by overheating of the body. Your pet’s inner temperature begins to rise and left untreated it can cause serious injury including organ failure, convulsions and brain damage and even death.
What to look for: Glazed eyes, rapid panting, diarrhea, rapid pulse and heartbeat, nausea and vomiting. In dogs, the skin inside the ears may become bright red. As it progresses from heat exhaustion to heat stroke, panting will become even more rapid and your pet may show a bright red tongue, unusually colored gums and unusually thick saliva. There may be weakness and dizziness.
What to do: Above all – act quickly. Get your pet indoors to a cooler area if at all possible – a concrete basement floor or tile flooring in a bathroom can work wonders to cool them down.
• Use a fan and turn on the air conditioning if you can.
• Dampen skin with lukewarm water – not too cold is best.
• Run towels under cool water and apply them to your pet’s head, neck and chest.
• If a dog or cat’s temperature climbs above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, take them to a vet immediately.

Sunburn and foot pad burn are also major concerns in the summer months. Just like the sunburn we experience as humans, the skin is damaged in the process. Foot pad burns in particular can easily become infected if skin blisters and breaks open.

• Dogs sweat through their feet.
• Be aware of the temperature of surfaces your pet may be exposed to like asphalt and pavement for dogs and limit exposure when necessary.
• Walk your dog on the grass if at all possible.
• Some dogs may benefit from an overall haircut in the summer to keep cool but be careful of cutting too close to the skin to avoid sunburns. One-inch of fur is typically enough to prevent it.
• If burns occur, keep a close eye on affected skin for possible breaks and infections. There are many preparations that can aid recovery and healing. Consider keeping your pet out of the sun until skin is healed.

General Tips in the Heat:

• Reduce exercise and outdoor time in hot weather.
• Do not muzzle dogs in hot weather since it inhibits their ability to pant.
• Add ice to drinking water for an extra cooling effect.
• Avoid a doghouse – the small enclosure can get very, very hot inside.
• If your dog is so inclined, let them play in the water to cool down.
• Exercise or provide outdoor time early morning or just after sunset when the day is cooler.

Yours in pet vet health, 

Dr. Gary Arzem

About Dr. Arzem and The North Yonge Veterinary Hospital:
Dr. Gary Arzem received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from The Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Ontario in 1989. He is the founder and head veterinarian at The North Yonge Veterinary Hospital in Newmarket, Ontario. Having practiced veterinary medicine for more than 25 years, his skills and special interests include surgery, dentistry, diagnostic imaging (ultrasound and radiography), dermatology, internal medicine, cardiology, ophthalmology and public health as it relates to pets and their owners. He is a founding member of The Veterinary Emergency Clinic of York Region in Newmarket. Dr. Arzem is recognized as an educational leader in the community and is involved with The Ontario Veterinary College, York Region District School Board, Simcoe County Board of Education, and Seneca College’s Co-Operative Education Programs. Dr. Arzem also participates in several continuing education conferences, including The North American and Western Veterinary Conferences and he is actively involved in fundraising for a number of charitable organizations, such as The Pet Trust Fund, The Farley Foundation, The Hospital for Sick Children and the Canadian Cancer Society. He has also appeared on City T.V.’s Animal House Calls and Rogers Your Pet Your Vet television shows and has written several articles for Newmarket’s Snapd Newspapers.

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