Preventing Heat Stress and Injury

May 1st, 2014

Stress, trauma, and even death occur far too often in pets today despite everything known about the risks of heat exposure. Serious injury can occur when animals are exposed to heat for even short periods of time. This can be the result of vigorous activity or being left inside of a car, even with the windows partly open, or while parked in the shade. Animals can sustain heat related injuries quite quickly even if the weather is relatively mild. For example, when the outside air temperature is 70 degrees, the inside of a car will rise to 99 degrees in only 20 minutes. While exercising, heat toxicity can range from heat exhaustion to heat stroke, which is so severe it requires immediate medical attention.

When exposed to heat, an animal’s internal body temperature naturally increases. The only way for an animal to release the heat, since it does not sweat like a human except through its paw pads and nose, is through panting. This method is limited in its effectiveness which is why serious injury can ensue. Heat retention causes blood vessels to constrict and this is when shock can occur, which usually requires intravenous fluids and hospitalization. Signs of heat stress are panting, excessive thick salivation, weakness, collapse, vomiting and diarrhea. If excessive heat retention is not relieved, organs such as the kidney, liver, heart, muscles, brain, and gastro intestinal tract are prone to failure.

Pet owners should take every precaution to avoid exposing their animals to activities or situations that can result in serious heat related injuries. A pet should never be left unattended in a vehicle in warmer weather, and exercise should be limited in extreme temperatures, especially if the animal is overweight or aged. Activity should be restricted entirely if temperatures are above 80 degrees, especially if high humidity is present. Proper hydration and shade-laden breaks are necessary, and cooling with a wet towel or garden hose is recommended if the animal is panting or appears weak. Call a veterinary health care professional immediately if there are any doubts about the severity of the situation.