Heat Stroke

by Jane Fink

With summer in full swing and the heat not likely to let up for another few weeks, we must continue to carefully supervise and limit any outdoor exposure our dogs receive. This is common sense really but bears repeating, especially if you are accustomed to taking your dog with you everywhere you go. Don’t do it. A few minutes in a parked car, even with the windows opened for ventilation, can quickly become a sweltering tomb for your dog as the temperature inside the vehicle climbs to over 110 degrees. While you think you will only be a minute inside a store, think again. Your quick dash inside may end up turning into 15 or 20 minutes, or longer, especially if you find yourself detained by a longer wait at checkout or run into an old friend who wants to chat. Or, what if you suffered a sudden illness or injury while shopping and were unable to tell anyone that your dog was waiting in the car? It could happen.

Dogs regulate their body temperature by expelling heat through panting; this is how they cool themselves. In case of overheating, the dog’s cooking mechanism cannot keep up with the rise in internal temperature. In a desperate attempt to cool itself, the dog will open its mouth as wide as possible to pant harder and harder, putting a severe strain on the heart and lungs. A dog’s normal temperature is around 101 but in a heat crisis, the temperature can quickly rise to 105 or above. A dog that has a medical condition, including Addison’s disease, a tick borne disease, seizures, heart disease, obesity, or other condition, should not be exposed to elevated temperatures. What feels comfortable to us may be too war for the dog.

Over heating and heat stroke can be just as prevalent in the spring and fall months as in the summer because people are fooled into thinking the temperatures are cooler and end up leaving the dog outside or unattended in a car for longer periods of time. But did you know that heat stroke could also happen right inside the home? Many homes these days have enormous windows, sunrooms and conservatories. During the day, as the sun shifts and temperatures rise, a dog confined to one of these rooms may not be able to escape the afternoon sun and heat. I know that in my own home my den receives direct exposure to the afternoon sun; combine the added heat with the design of the room which has floor to ceiling windows and two sides and two skylights, and the temperature rises at least 15 degrees higher than in any other room in the house even though the windows are shaded.

Prevention is the best course of action - keep dogs (and all pets) out of direct sunlight and heat, provide plenty of water (hydration cools the body) even if that means cleaning up a few accidents when you get home. If you travel with your dog, provide a cool mat, cool vest, or frozen two liter bottle of water wrapped in a towel for the dog to lie on or against to keep cool.

Cool mats and vests are available over the internet or you can make one yourself. Keep wire cages covered with shade type material but nothing too heavy so as to prevent airflow. If the dog is confined to a more enclosed crate, such as a plastic crate, it will need to be checked on frequently since airflow is a bit more restricted in plastic crates.

Learn how to to take your dog’s rectal temperature. If in doubt, as your vet to show you. Even though you may think your dog is fin, his internal temperature may be rising to dangerous and deadly levels.

The Drs. Foster and Smith website lists the signs to look for: rapid panting, bright red tongue, red or pale gums, thick, sticky saliva, depression, weakness, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, shock, coma.

If you find your dog in this type of emergency situation, act quickly and be prepared to rush your dog to the vet. Submerge the dog in cool water or spray the dog down with cool water. Do not use cold water - cooling the dog too quickly is just as life threatening because the blood vessels will constrict preventing the heat from escaping. Get your dog to the vet or emergency clinic immediately. Any delay in treatment may cause permanent damage to vital organs: kidney, heart, liver, gastrointestinal tract and brain. In many cases, organs will begin to shut down thus leading to death.

If you travel with your dogs, take along a couple of gallons of water and a bottle or two of Pedialyte for rehydration. Do not cover your dog with a wet towel, which will only prevent the heat from rising off the dog’s body. Open ventilation is best.

Hairdryers or drying cages can be very dangerous if used improperly or if used on an already heat exhausted dog. Make sure that if you are grooming your dog at the show on a warm day that you keep the dryer on low and provide your dog with plenty of water. If you are worried about getting the finely groomed muzzle damp, offer water via a spray bottle or cage bottle. If you take your dogs to be groomed, make sure the groomer does not leave dogs in cage dryers unattended.

Dr. Henry DeBoer’s Working Dog website offers this list of predisposing factors for heat stroke: heat, humidity, muscular activity, high body mass, anxiety, poor ventilation, dehydration, obesity, antihistamines, phenothiazines (medication for vomiting), increased age, brachycephalic breeds (pushed in faces).

Use common sense. Think of your animal first and be careful!

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If you're interested in learning more about the West Highland White Terrier Club of Greater Atlanta, joining or working on a committee, here are the folks that can help. Just click on their names to contact them.

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Vice President: Donna Cannon

Treasurer: Brenda Hemphill

Secretary: Fran Stephenson

West Highland White Terrier Club of Greater Atlanta, Inc.

Post Office Box 844
Roswell, GA 30077-0844

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