Houston has the perfect recipe for heat stroke--brutally hot, sunny days and lots of humidity.
Heat stroke occurs when a dog loses its ability to regulate its body temperature. Dogs don’t sweat all over their bodies the way humans do. Canine body temperature is primarily regulated through respiration (i.e., panting). If a dog’s respiratory tract cannot evacuate heat quickly enough, heatstroke can occur. To know whether or not your dog is suffering from heatstroke (as opposed to merely heat exposure), it’s important to know the signs of heatstroke.
A dog’s normal resting temperature is about 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Once a dog’s temperature rises above 105 degrees, physiological changes start to take place, and the dog begins to experience the effects of heatstroke. At 106 to 108 degrees, the dog begins to suffer irreversible damage to the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract, heart and brain.
When you're out walking or exercising your dog, it is very important to make sure your pet stays hydrated, so bringing along water is a good idea. You can freeze water in a bottle and to give it in small amounts as it melts. It is better to give small amounts of water throughout your pet's walk as opposed to allowing your dog to guzzle water after exercise. Increased water (or food) consumption after exercise has been linked with gastric dilatation/volvulus (where the stomach swells and twists on itself).
Signs of heat exhaustion include heavy panting, hyperventilation (deep breathing), increased salivation early then dry gums as the heat prostration progresses, weakness, confusion or inattention, vomiting or diarrhea and sometimes bleeding. As the condition progresses towards heat prostration or heat stroke there may be obvious paleness or graying to the gums. Eventually the breathing will become slowed or absent, followed by vomiting and diarrhea that may be bloody and finally seizures or coma. Temperatures above 105 degrees Fahrenheit are dangerous, if you have a way of taking a rectal temperature. Of course most people don't carry around thermometers with them and the physical signs are usually enough to go by.
The best approach to heat exhaustion is to prevent it by allowing acclimation to exercise on hot days slowly, to make sure there is access to water and to retreat to air conditioned areas when signs of overheating first occur. It is relatively rare to see heat exhaustion on really hot days except for dogs who are trapped in cars, greenhouses, etc. Most dogs and people know not to overexert on those days. Sometimes there are problems during the first moderately hot days of the summer in active dogs who just go on being really active on these days before they have a chance to get used to the heat. We also see problems here because people assume that if a dog is in the water, like at the beach in Galveston, that the dog won't overheat. This just isn't true when the water temperature gets much above 75 degrees if the dog is working hard in the water.
If your pet should show signs of serious distress from the heat it is best to cool them immediately with cool or tepid water rather than really cold water. If ice packs are available they can be applied to areas where circulation is very good, such as the "armpits", inquinal region, or neck. Blowing air over your dog with a fan as you cool them off with water can be helpful. As soon as they seem to be gaining some comfort proceed to your veterinarian. Dogs who suffer from heat stroke can develop delayed complications that are really serious, including death, if they are not properly monitored and cared for.
The veterinarian will cool the dog with cool water (but not ice) and other methods until the body temperature gets back to 103 degrees F. Other medications might be given to help prevent inflammation, shock, and a condition called DIC where clotting factors in the blood are used up.
If it's hot out there (and we know it will be), make sure your dog gets the same cooling and water breaks you do, and they should be fine.
West U Vet
5316 Weslayan (next to PetCo)