By By Maj. Nic R. Cabano, DVM, MS, Fort Belvoir Veterinary CenterMay 31, 2012
FORT BELVOIR, Va. (May 31) -- The heat has arrived. It is time to remember that our dogs are especially at risk for heat exhaustion because they don't perspire, as humans do, to dissipate heat. Our best friend's primary way to lower their body temperature is through panting.
We have already started to see pets coming to the Fort Belvoir Veterinary Center with heat injuries, and want to discuss some ways to prevent this from occurring in your loved ones. Preventing heat injuries is easier than treating them, so early identification and treatment of heat injury helps save lives.
Tips on preventing heat injuries
• Routine grooming goes a long way for pets with longer or thicker hair. Many pets benefit from shorter hair coats and may be less likely to suffer heat injuries especially during hot and humid weather.
• If you are new to the area or traveling abroad, allow a week or two for pets to acclimatize to their new environment before resuming typical physical activities. Pets become especially stressed when traveling to or from airports, consider practicing your trip prior to actually making it, in order to identify potential hazards.
• Be judicious about walking your pets on the pavement as these surfaces can magnify the heat and could burn a pet's paws on contact.
• Routine physical activities may become challenging for our four legged friends. If you are going to exercise your pets for prolonged periods of time, like a long run, make sure that you are doing this during the coolest times of day and not pushing your buddy beyond his or her capabilities. Avoid neck collars and especially choke chains during heavy physical activities.
• Pets should not be left outside for prolonged periods of time. If your pet must be left outside, ensure that it is provided with adequate shade and water, and that you are checking on it frequently. Never stake or tether your dog outside on a leash, as this may result in a choking fatality. It only takes a few minutes for pets to get themselves into trouble.
• Avoid taking your pet in the car. Air conditioning may not be enough to prevent pets from overheating when exposed to direct sunlight in your vehicle. Remember that it is against the law to leave your pet confined in a parked car, even if the car is parked in the shade with the windows cracked.
• Take additional precautions to safeguard older or very young pets, overweight or obese animals, pets with chronic medical conditions like cancer, heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes and other hormone disorders, as well as, short or snub-nosed breeds (like pugs and bulldogs).
• Practice water safety. Dogs that have never been swimming or haven't been swimming for an extended period of time, can tire quickly, become exhausted, and could even drown.
Know the signs of heat injuries
• Heat injuries are similar in pets and people. Heat stress is the first stage of concern. Signs of heat stress include unusually red colored gums, excessive salivation, unusual thirst, and heavy but controlled panting.
If your pet demonstrates any of these signs, stop the exercise immediately, place them in a cool, shady area immediately, and provide cool water. If your pet does not recover quickly or worsens, cool them by dowsing their hair coat with water (wet), place them in front of fans or air conditioning (windy), and immediately consult a veterinarian. An easy way to remember this is to think "wet and windy."
• Heat exhaustion is the next stage of compromise and may include limping or lameness (from cramping), the inability or refusal to stand or walk, weakness, uncontrolled panting or difficulty breathing. Heat injuries progress rapidly and must be treated immediately. If you suspect heat exhaustion, get your pet to a cool place and take the steps to cool it as described above. Allow your pet to drink water if it is able. If the pet cannot drink or if its condition deteriorates, continue to cool it down and immediately transport it to a veterinarian.
• Heat stroke is the final stage of deterioration and is a life threatening event. Rapid, correct action is essential. Do not hesitate to cool your pet and transport it to an emergency veterinarian immediately, if you observe dark colored gums, vomiting during or after exercise, disorientation or abnormal behavior, collapse, seizures or loss of consciousness.
Be in control of what your pet eats
• Beware of poisonous or dangerous items such as plant food, insecticides, fertilizer, rat bait, antifreeze, coins (especially pennies), string or fishing line, citronella candles, oil products, and insect coils that may be around the home and yard and make your pet sick if eaten.
• Some dogs have a preference for used clothing such as socks, and will gobble these down at the first opportunity. Other pets may be interested in eating the insides of their stuffed animals, pieces of rubber or squeaky toys, and even the packaging tape that wrapped up their prized possessions!
• Put your table scraps in secure garbage or refuse containers, do not feed them to your pets. Too much fatty food during picnics or after eating from the garbage, can lead to a life threatening condition of the pancreas. Bones and rawhide chews also present a significant choking hazard and should be avoided.
• The heat, loud noise, and confusion of crowded summer events can traumatize your pet, and may cause it to want to run away or escape from the environment. Make sure that your loved ones have a quiet, safe place that they can use for shelter within the home or as you travel abroad.
• Make sure that your pet is always wearing a collar or identification such as a tag or microchip. The Fort Belvoir VETCEN is available to place, scan, and check the working status of your pet's microchip at each visit as requested.
• Last but not least, maintain recommended flea, tick, and heartworm medication since diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes may be life threatening. Note: Not all topical medications are waterproof or even safe for pets. Check with the Fort Belvoir VETCEN for recommended and approved medications to be used on your pet.
For more information contact the VETCEN at (703) 805-4336.