It’s vital to be on ultra alert during high-heat season

From the looks of things, we are in for a dry, hot summer here in the Grand Valley.

With that it mind, it is never too early to discuss the dangers of heat-induced illness and heat stroke in animals.

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat-induced illness and can lead to multiple organ failure and central nervous system damage. Because the reported survival rates for true heat stroke victims are as low as 50 percent, it is a condition that requires early recognition of signs and immediate intervention and medical treatment.

It is not too difficult to understand why pets are prone to heat induced illnesses. The body has mechanisms that maintain body temperature in a very narrow range. Alterations above this “set-point” activate a number of cooling processes to help reset the body temperature.

In pets, panting is the first process to assist in cooling, but panting alone is rarely enough to significantly reduce the temperature. Seventy percent of cooling in dogs and cats is achieved when the blood vessels near the surface of the skin dilate, the heart rate increases to move more blood to the surface vessels and heat is lost through convection as air moves over the body. This is why a closed vehicle with no air circulating quickly turns into an oven for a pet.

Temperature, humidity, confinement, poor ventilation and water deprivation are all factors contributing to heat-related illness and heat stroke. Certain medical conditions such as obesity and laryngeal paralysis also can predispose an animal to heat stroke. The short nosed breeds such as pugs, Boston terriers, English bulldogs as well as Persian or Himalayan cats are at higher risk.

Exertional heat stroke, as the name implies, is caused by exercising during warm weather before acclimatization has occurred. Interestingly, exertional heat stroke is actually more common in late spring and early summer even though it is not as hot as it is in late summer. This early season phenomenon is related to how the body adjusts to the temperature as the season progresses.

So how do you recognize heat-related illness? Excessive panting, weakness or collapse, change in mental status and vomiting and diarrhea are the most common early signs you will notice.

An increased rectal temperature (normally 101.5) is the most accurate method of determining body temperature. If you think you are recognizing these early signs of heat-related illness, the first thing you can do is cool your pet with a wet towel while transporting them to your veterinarian. Keep air moving in the vehicle either with air conditioning or by keeping windows open.

Once at the veterinarian, your pet will be further cooled and assessed to determine the severity of their condition. IV fluids, lab work and oxygen therapy are going to be important in stabilizing a heat stroke victim. Because the prognosis for true heat stroke victims is guarded, it is critical that you are able to recognize signs early and your pet receives emergency care as quickly as possible.

Remember a few common sense rules that can help to protect animals from the ill effects of warm weather.

Always provide adequate shade and, if possible, keep the air circulating with fans. Keep plenty of fresh, cool water available and, if you are exercising with your dog, carry a water bottle for them as well as for yourself. You may even wet your pet’s skin with a hose before heading out to exercise.

Never leave your pet in the car, no matter how quick you think you will be. On an 85-degree day it takes only 10 minutes for the inside of a car to reach 102 degrees, even with the windows cracked open, and within 30 minutes the inside temperature may reach 120 degrees.

It is hoped these tips will help you keep your furry family members safe while you enjoy another hot Grand Junction summer.

Drs. Tom and Tara Suplizio own Animal Medical Clinic in Grand Junction. The Suplizios are graduates of the Colorado State University Veterinary School. Email them at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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