Infants and the elderly are vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat. This we know. But many dog and cat owners overlook the role high temperatures play in the health of their pets.
DIF veterinarian Lorena García Medina wants to reverse the perception that dogs and cats are more resistant than humans to high temperatures. On the contrary, pets are more sensitive to the elements.
Dogs can not regulate their body temperature by sweating, as people do, since they do not have sweat glands scattered throughout the body. They eliminate heat through breathing and the sweat they expel from the pads of their feet and by areas with little hair, like their bellies. The same with cats, who try to maintain a stable temperature licking and looking for the coolest places in the house.
“They have no greater defense against the heat. Their well-being depends on us,” says García Medina. She is treating cases of heatstoke, a very serious clinical condition that happens when a pet’s or person’s body temperature reaches 42C / 107F.
“We have to act immediately, because the damages — at the cellular and organic level — may be irreversible,” she says.
The first symptoms of heatstroke are increased gasping, shortness of breath, dizziness and weakness. Animals need access to plenty of cold and clean water, and to shady spots in the house.
As with humans, special care must be taken with very young and older animals.
Special measures should also be taken with “flat-faced” dogs and cats (brachycephalus), such as bulldogs, boxers and Persian cats. Long-haired or dark-colored dogs and cats are also at higher risk. Walking dogs should be timed for early mornings or late nights.
“Walking on pavement in hours of sun is prohibited. They do not wear shoes and the heat accumulated on the asphalt could cause burns to their legs,” García Medina says.
This is not the time for self-care. If you think you have heatstroke, seek medical attention. While waiting for the doctor, stay in the shade or indoors, remove excess clothing, and get cool by whatever means possible — a cool tub of water or a cool shower, a garden hose, sponge with cool water, fan while misting with cool water, or ice packs or cold, wet towels on the head, neck, armpits and groin.
Heatstroke treatment means on cooling your body to a normal temperature to prevent or reduce damage to your brain and vital organs. To do this, medical professionals may immerse you in a cold-water bath, or mist cool water on your body while warm air is fanned over you, causing the water to evaporate and cool your skin.
If treatments make you shiver, your doctor may give you a muscle relaxant, such as a benzodiazepine. Shivering increases your body temperature, making treatment less effective.
With information from the Mayo Clinic