Did you know that instead of sweating, dogs eliminate heat by panting? They do have some sweat glands in the footpads, which help dissipate some heat, but only minimally.
As the hot weather looms, heatstroke becomes an increasingly serious consideration for pet owners, and is defined as a body temperature greater than 41 degrees.
Heatstroke often occurs in the summer months, and confinement in a vehicle is the most common cause of heatstroke. Numerous risk factors for heatstroke have been identified, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, upper airway abnormalities, neurological disorders, body weight 15kg, lack of environmental acclimation and fitness, strenuous exercise, high environmental temperature and humidity levels and confinement with poor ventilation. Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and brachycephalic (flat faced) breeds are predisposed.
Clinically heatstroke is more severe than one might think. Heatstroke can cause multiple organ failure including gut necrosis, nervous system abnormalities, acute renal injury, acidosis, cardiac arrhythmias and coagulation disorders.
Identifying if your pet has been affected by heat stroke is critical to their outcome. Some symptoms to watch out for include; bounding heart rate, markedly increased respiration rate (panting), salivation, dehydration, abnormal gum colour, collapse, disorientation, stupor, coma and seizures.
Specific therapy and treatment is vital in these patients and may include cooling therapy which can be performed while travelling to the vet. These measures include towels pre-soaked with cool water placed onto your pet, and having the air-conditioning or the windows rolled down on the car ride in.
Once at the hospital, alcohol may be placed on the feet, ears and other sparsely haired areas of your pet for immediate cooling. A fan will be used to help dissipate heat through evaporation.
The use of ice baths and ice packs are NOT recommended as constriction of blood vessels actually decreases heat loss. Active cooling stops as body temperatures reach 38.8 - 29.4 degrees celsius or hypothermia (low body temperature) may ensue.
Other treatment includes oxygen therapy, intravenous fluid therapy, glucose supplementation, antibiotic therapy (due to the risk of bacterial translocation from the gastrointestinal system), stomach protectants and correction of electrolyte imbalances. Continued monitoring is also be important.
Would you believe that published mortality rates for affected dogs range from 50 - 56 per cent!
Preventing heat stroke is relatively straightforward and includes: animals should not be confined to a vehicle or other space (eg cage) on hot or humid days.
Keep your pets indoors on hot days and make sure your loved ones have access to shade and water at all times when outside.
Lastly, avoid heavy exercise on hot or humid days.