Archive for August, 2014

It’s a Cruel Summer

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

imagesImagine sitting in your car, wearing a full length fur coat waiting for a friend to come out of Stop N Shop.  Imagine it being the middle of August. Your friend took the keys. The AC is off. The windows aren’t open. And everyone in the 12 items or less line has 13 items. Or more. How long could you stand it? Did you know that the temperature inside a car , even with the windows cracked, on an 85 degree day can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes? Think about it, a car is basically a metal shell, a great absorber of heat. An oven. Your furry friend does not want to be in an oven.

Heat, and especially humidity, can be a dangerous, sometimes lethal combination , causing heat exhaustion or heat stroke in pets, mostly dogs. The risks increases if the dog is

a) overweight

b) has existing heart or lung problems

c) brachycephalic (i.e. smoosh faced dogs like Pugs and Bulldogs who have increased resistance to air flow through their already flattened nasal passages)

d)  elderly (airways aren’t as elastic to expand and contract smoothly)

e) overactive (increased muscle activity generates more heat)

Most people know that, unlike us, dogs can’t really sweat to cool down (except a little from their pads). Dogs release heat by panting.

We’ve been pretty lucky so far this summer, having had only one case of heat trauma in a black pit bull mix who was chasing the lawn mower back and forth. Her owners quickly recognized she was lethargic, was struggling to breathe, and brought her in right away. Their prompt action led to a successful outcome. Some clinical signs of heat exhaustion are dark pink or red gums, excessive panting with thick ropy drool, trembling muscles, a rapid heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea and a change in personality. Dog’s eyes can glaze, they can act confused, disorientated and dull. They may stumble when they walk, become weak and even collapse. As the core body temperature rises, the internal effect on organs is, well, like they are being baked. If the brain is affected, a dog may have seizures. The liver and kidneys can fail and basic clotting can be compromised.

If you recognize any of these signs in your dog at home, a rectal temperature may confirm heat exhaustion. A normal dog temperature is between 100 and 102.5. Temperatures between 104 and 106 degrees Fahrenheit are cause for concern and action. Cool the dog down. You can apply ice packs to less haired areas like the groin, armpits,  belly and head. Turning the garden hose on the dog is a good idea, just make sure you let the water run and check it is cool before turning it on him,  you don’t want to burn him with old water that has baked in rubber under the hot sun.  We usually immerse dogs in cool water baths (not ice cold, that can cause too rapid cooling and hypothermia ), start intravenous fluids to combat dehydration  and improve circulation to organs, and use drugs to combat any inflammation, infection or seizures. If the dog is having serious difficulty breathing, it may need to be sedated so we can intubate it and improve its oxygen intake.

Some practical tips to avoid disaster. Air conditioning is your friend. And your best friend’s friend. Your dog doesn’t want to go to Walmart or spend every minute with you. It wants to stay home, not in the Easy Bake Oven your car becomes within minutes of the AC being turned off.  I believe in exercise, just do it smart. Early morning and evenings are best. Watch your dog;  if he is lagging behind or hanging is head or panting a lot, stop.  Be careful of hot asphalt, it can burn pads. Carry fresh water everywhere. Look into cooling vests or mats. I know some dogs are outdoor dogs. Just remember, dog houses are not well ventilated and shade moves.