Veterinarians warn of heatstroke risks for pets

Veterinarians warn of heatstroke risks for pets

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – As Tennessee stares down the barrel of more high temperatures this week, animal welfare experts are warning pet owners to keep an eye on their four-legged friends.

According to Dr. Bryant Morton, co-owner of Lynchburg Veterinary Hospital, the effects of heatstroke in dogs can be deadly.

Morton said heatstroke can affect dogs just as it can humans, and in many cases, once a dog begins to suffer from heatstroke, they may not be able to recover.

“A lot of times, these dogs are going to succumb to metabolic issues,” he told News 2. “Unfortunately, the prognosis is poor.”

Unlike humans, dogs do not regulate their body temperature through sweating.

“Dogs don’t sweat, so the best way that they can cool themselves off is by panting or getting in water,” he said.

If the dog cannot cool themselves off enough, then they will begin exhibiting symptoms of heat stress, which can turn into heatstroke. Those signs include:

  • Heavy panting
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Discolored gums (blue or red)
  • Excessive salivation
  • Collapse/seizures

Additionally, Morton said, a dog’s mucous membranes, gums, or eyes can appear red if they are suffering from heat stress.

Morton said he does not typically see many heatstroke cases in dogs at his clinic, but there are sometimes a “handful” of cases he will treat.

Although heat illness in pets can come on quickly, Morton said there are several steps pet owners can take to keep their pooch plenty cool.

“One of the first things owners can do is try to cool them off,” he said, though not with ice cold water. “Get them cooled off a little bit, but not ice water. That dramatic temperature change creates more problems than it helps.”

According to Dr. Lori Bierbrier, DVM, Senior Medical Director of the ASPCA Community Medicine Team, there is not a specific temperature pet owners should be mindful of when it comes to their pets; rather, it’s the snout that matters.

“Animals that have short, stubby noses, like bulldogs and pugs, they have a really hard time maintaining their heat regulation, so they can get overheated on just a regular summer day,” she told News 2.

Certain breeds are more at risk, as are older and very young animals, Bierbrier added. The same is true for cats, she said. Short-snouted felines, like Persians, are more likely to suffer from heat-related illness.

Something that does not affect a dog’s heat retention as much is their particular coat, according to Bierbrier. While many people may think that so-called cold weather dogs like Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies or Great Pyrenes, would suffer more in the heat, the opposite can be true.

“Some of those coats are actually helpful in maintaining heat regulation, both cold and hot, but if you have a very thick coat, it can add to them being hot,” she said. “One of the recommendations when managing dogs at summertime is we do not recommend shaving animals down completely. That fur there acts as a heat barrier to keep some of the heat out, but you can trim the fur, so that it’s not quite as big.”

It sounds counterintuitive, she said, “It’s really not a good idea.”

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Pet owners should also monitor their pets for disorientation, according to Morton.

“If the dog can still stand and walk, your chances of helping that pet are a lot better than the pet that doesn’t even know where they’re at,” he said. “If they’re comatose, breathing hard and their temperature is well over 107 degrees, by that time, things have gotten very critical.”

(Courtesy: ASPCA)

Bierbrier recommended dog owners plan their days around the temperature, keeping any outside walks to either the early morning before the sun is hottest or the later evening after sun has gone down. Further, she said, dog owners should avoid taking them outside for exercise.

“Just keep the day really chill and just take them out to do their business,” she said. “Make sure they have a space that is air conditioned, or if they’re outside, that’s shaded with lots of water.”

Additionally, Morton said, dog owners need to be cognizant of the temperature of the ground when walking their dogs. Asphalt can be several degrees hotter than the ambient temperature and burn a dog’s paw pads.

Morton said he recently saw a dog whose owners believed were suffering from a heat illness. The owners had walked the dog to the local swimming pool on hot roads, and the dog was uncomfortable by the ground temperature.

“They lived about 45 minutes from the hospital; by the time the dog was here, his temperature was fine, but his feet were tender,” he said. “People need to remember not to walk their dogs on hot asphalt. It’s really hard on their feet pads.”

Something both animal experts said pet owners need to watch for is leaving any pet in a hot car.

“You can imagine it’s hot already, and then to have that closed off car, that’s when we hear these really tragic stories of dogs passing away from heat from being left in a car,” Bierbrier said.

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“Even with your air conditioners on or your windows cracked, don’t leave your pets in the car,” Morton added.

On an 85° day, it only takes about ten minutes for the inside of a car to heat up to 102°, according to the ASPCA.


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