If you're hot, so is your dog and cat

July 27, 1999|By Carolyn Poirot | Carolyn Poirot,FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

The tiny Chihuahua appeared bloated -- her belly extended, her legs sticking straight out, stiff. Tremors shook her body.

"We have an emergency -- temperature 105," said the technician, alerting the veterinarian, who was examining a beagle in the next room.

The temperature outside 94 degrees -- not that hot for midsummer in Fort Worth, Texas.

But the Chihuahua, an indoor pet, had given birth two weeks earlier.

The pet was not suffering from heat exhaustion. She had eclampsia, a form of high blood pressure associated with pregnancy.

Most pets with similar symptoms this time of the year have been out in the heat too long, often without enough water, sometimes in a hot car.

"Usually 105 degrees is a life-threatening temperature in a dog, no matter what is causing it," said veterinarian Clare Williamson, who quickly cooled down the Chihuahua and treated her with calcium injections to stop her postpartum contraction seizures.

With heat soaring into the high 90s this week, pet owners should be aware of the dangers of heat stress on animals, especially puppies or kittens; animals that are older or overweight or that have chronic health problems; and those that are pregnant or have recently given birth, said the Texas Veterinary Medical Association.

"You need to remember, if the heat is unbearable for you outside, it's going to be unbearable for your animals. Not all outside dogs were meant to be outside in hot, hot weather for hours at a time," said Williamson.

"The normal body temperature of a dog or cat is between 100 and 102 degrees. Hyperthermia occurs when the animal's body temperature exceeds 105 degrees," said veterinarian Margaret Thompson. "The severity of symptoms depends upon how high the temperature gets, how long the temperature has been elevated, the humidity, and even the breed of dog or cat. Breeds with short noses (such as bulldogs, pugs and Persian cats) are at greater risk for heat stroke."

Dogs and cats do not sweat, except from the pads of their feet, so they do not have evaporative cooling on the surface of their skin as humans do. Their only cooling mechanism is through their noses and mouths when they pant.

The long hair of dogs and cats acts like the insulation in your attic. It is not comparable to our wearing a fur coat in hot weather. If you have your pet shaved, you are actually increasing its risk of heat stroke if it is an outdoor pet.

"Symptoms of mild and short-duration hyperthermia can include extreme panting, excessive salivation and darkened gums and lips (on the inside). As the duration of the hyperthermic episode increases, and the temperature continues to rise, the chance of permanent damage or death also increases. High body temperature can lead to death of cells in the nervous system and to hemorrhages in the brain that can lead to seizures, coma and death," Thompson said.

"If you find your pet showing signs of heatstroke or hyperthermia, immediate cooling and supportive care are essential for recovery," she said.

First aid for heatstroke includes gently cooling down the pet with cool water and getting it to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.

Williamson and Thompson recommend putting the pet in a sink or tub of cool water or wrapping it with a wet towel if possible. If not, hose it down with tap water and take an ice pack and wet cloth to use on the way to the vet's office.

Water and shade are most important in preventing summer heat from threatening a pet's health, said the Texas Veterinary Medical Association. Make sure fresh water is available at all times. Remember, heat will evaporate some of it. Ice cubes in the water are a good idea.

Most heatstroke victims seen in veterinary hospitals have been left in a vehicle, says the TVMA.

Never leave your pet in a closed automobile, said Rolf Lippke, a spokesman for TVMA. (It is against the law in Maryland.) "If it is 85 degrees outside, it would take only 32 minutes for the temperature to rise to 120 degrees in a parked car with the windows rolled up. A 5 degree to 6 degree rise in a dog's or cat's temperature could result in brain damage or death."

Also, caution should be taken in exercising pets in the midday heat. Activities such as hiking or playing fetch with your dog should be done in the early morning or late evening. Joggers who want to take their dogs along for the run should recognize that animals require conditioning to get in shape just as humans do.

And hot pavement can blister a dog's feet.

Pub Date: 7/27/99

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