Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Beating the Heat

With hot weather just around the corner, you can take some steps to make sure you have a cool cat and not a hot dog as warm temperatures begin affecting people and pets.

Each year, there are hundreds of heat stroke cases in pets seen around the country, and Dr. Kathy Snyder, a veterinarian at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, has some valuable advice about pets and warm weather.

According to Snyder, heat stroke afflicts an animal when the animal can not dissipate all the heat from the environment quickly enough to regulate its body temperature. When its body temperature rises to unnatural levels, any of the following can happen: kidney failure, liver failure, abnormal blood clotting, swelling of the brain, tissue loss in the intestines, abnormal heart rhythms, muscle damage and destruction of blood cells.

“If the animal has extensive internal damages from heat stroke, it may die. Pet owners should pay close attention to their animals during the summer months, especially at the beginning of the summer when animals’ bodies are acclimating to the hotter weather,” Snyder explains.

Animals can develop heat stroke in many ways, and pet owners need to take proactive measures to ensure that their pet is not in harm’s way this summer. Snyder advises pet owners to keep a couple of water bowls out during the summer.

“It is important that the animal have a ‘back-up’ water bowl, especially during the summer months. If the animal’s primary water source was depleted for any reason, the animal would need the extra water to prevent heat stroke,” she adds.

It is also important that animals not be left in enclosed spaces where the temperature can increase rapidly to an extreme value, such as cars, garages, sheds and barns. Small, enclosed spaces can easily reach temperatures of 120 degrees in a very short period of time. Pet owners need to make sure that the animal has at least one of the following during the summer months: shade, a baby pool or an active sprinkler system. These can help the animal stay cool in the heat, and help the animal to control its internal body temperature, Snyder notes.

“Pet owners should be careful when exercising with their pets when it is hot outside. The animals may overheat quickly and keep exercising to keep up with the pet owner. If the animal becomes too hot it can experience heat stroke or even die,” says Snyder. Animals with existing obesity or heart, airway or neurological diseases are especially at risk to develop heat stroke.

Another heat stroke prevention measure that pet owners can take is to shave the animal, especially in animals with a thick haircoat. This loss of coat will help the animal to stay cooler during the hottest months of the year, she believes.

According to Snyder, if an animal has developed heat stroke it will display one or more of the following symptoms: lethargy, heavy panting, weakness, vomiting, unresponsiveness or it may even be comatose.

If the animal displays any of these symptoms, Snyder recommends putting cool water on the animal’s coat and then immediately driving it to a veterinarian’s office. Measures can be taken to help the animal, but only if it arrives to the veterinarian’s office quickly, she stresses.


Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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