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Heat Stroke

With summer almost upon us, we have recently been reminded what the southern heat can do to our beloved pets. We were involved in a case last year where 2 large dogs were left in a car while the owner attended classes at a local university. He had the windows cracked and left water in the car for them to drink. The outside temperature was 94 degrees F and the heat index was over 100 degrees F. Good Samaritan bystanders discovered the distressed dogs and called Animal Control. When they arrived the female dog was dead and the male was unconscious. The officer wet the dog down with cool water and transported him to our veterinary hospital. His rectal temperature was 105 degrees F and he was non responsive. The normal rectal temperature of a dog is 100-102 degrees F. We applied wet towels on his body and turned on a hose with cool water to wet him down. We applied ice packs to his head and groin and armpit areas. An intravenous catheter was inserted and vigorous amount of fluids were administered. An oxygen mask was placed on his nose and his heart rate and temperature were monitored. Once we felt he was stable enough for transport to the Animal Emergency and Referral Center, he was taken there by Animal Control. He unfortunately did not respond and had to be euthanized later that evening. The owner is facing 2 felony counts of animal cruelty.

Two days later I read of a K-9 police officer in Woodstock, Georgia with 12 years experience, was arrested after leaving his canine police officer in his cruiser. The dog died, and he faces a felony count of animal cruelty, and he has lost his job. This is particularly disturbing because this happened to a person with experience dealing with dogs.

Hyperthermia can occur very quickly in this brutal Florida heat. The temperature in a car can reach 140-150 degrees F in a very short period of time. Dogs do not perspire. They can only dissipate heat from panting and from slight sweating of the pads of their feet. If the ambient temperature is higher than the dog’s core temperature, panting cannot dissipate the heat, and the dog’s internal temperature can rise very rapidly. Signs of hyperthermia are obvious; panting, restlessness, crying, lethargy, red and tacky gums, unconsciousness, and death.

When the body’s core temperature rises above 105 degrees F, serious damage can occur in a very short period of time to the brain, kidneys, intestines, and blood. Once clinical signs begin, they progress rapidly and can result in irreversible organ damage and death.

Prevention is the key. Dogs and other animals should never be left in a car, especially in the summer. In the heat of the day, pets should be allowed to go outside for short periods of time and they should avoid strenuous physical exertion. If they have to be outside, there should be plenty of shade and adequate amounts of water should always be available. We had an English Bulldog present to our hospital 2 years ago on a Saturday morning with heat stroke. The owner had taken the dog out for a walk on a hot morning. The dog began to pant, and collapsed. The owner carried the dog a half a mile to her house before bringing it to our hospital. The dog presented unconscious with a rectal temperature of over 110 degrees F. The owner was riddled with guilt. She innocently took the dog out for a walk, and 2 hours later, the dog was dead. Overweight and brachycephalic dogs are more predisposed to heat stroke. Brachycephalic dogs have the “pushed in noses” and they cannot dissipate heat as well by panting.

Dogs are not the only animals that can experience heat stroke. We own 8 horses and during the summer, we are constantly vigilant of the outdoor temperatures and heat indices. Once the heat index reaches 100 degrees F, we bring the horses in their stalls. We have overhead fans and they have automatic waterers in their stalls.

The people that were responsible for their dogs dying of heat stroke are not bad people. They were people who took chances with their pets’ lives and lost. I am not a gambler because I am not willing to lose. Let’s be safe and enjoy our summer with our pets!

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