Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Beat the Heat

It's Hot! It's officially summertime here in the US, and for most of us it's gotten pretty hot. Down here in Alabama it's gotten over 100 already, and the humidity is quite oppressive. This time of year we really need to be careful about how much time our kids and our pets spend outside.

Every year there are stories about kids or pets who were left in cars during the summer. It gets hot quickly inside a car, even with the windows down. Anytime it gets over 70 degrees outside it can become too hot inside a vehicle. So don't leave your little ones (2 or 4 legged) in the car unless the air conditioning is running. It's best not to leave them at all, but certainly don't leave them alone without any air. Make sure that vacant cars are locked so kids (or pets) can't climb in and get stuck inside.

Heat stroke is something we see every summer at the vet. That's what happens when an animal's body temperature gets too high. It happens most in dark colored animals or in those with shortened noses, like bulldogs and pugs, but it can happen to all pets. Cats and dogs can't sweat very much. They only have sweat glands in their feet. The only way they can cool down is to pant, which releases hot air from the body in the hopes that the incoming breath will bring cooler air. When the air is really hot or humid, that cooling mechanism breaks down and the animal overheats. Their normal body temperature should be around 100-102, but with heat stroke we often see it between 105-109. These temperatures will cause organ breakdown very quickly. If you suspect your pet is suffering from heat stroke, take them to the vet right away. On the way there, cool them down with wet towels soaked in cool water - do not use ice or ice water. Take a rectal temperature if possible so you can tell the vet how high their temp was before cooling was started. Direct fan vents to blow over the animal. If they are awake and alert they can drink water, but do not force it down their throat if they can't drink on their own. Call ahead to let your vet know that you are coming, so they can have an area prepared to continue to cool down your pet and get IV fluids running to get them rehydrated. I have lost several patients to heat stroke over the last few summers, and it's heartbreaking. Most of these cases present during the hot part of the day, but I've seen patients who overheated on early morning walks just because of the high humidity. So please, please be careful. If you're outside with your pet, and you're sweating, it's probably too hot for your pet. Make sure they're drinking plenty of water and have plenty of shade to cool down. Check out for more information.

We all know the dangers of sunburn for people, but pets can get sunburned also. Light colored animals can burn if they stay in the direct sunlight for too long. The main problem though is melanoma. This can affect any animal, but is seen often in white dogs and cats who like to sunbathe. You can buy pet friendly sunscreens at most pet stores. If you see an unusual spot on a light colored area of skin, have the vet check it out. Not all spots are bad, but it's hard to tell which ones are which.

Enjoy the weather with your 2 and 4 legged kids this summer. Stay safe, use caution, and keep everyone cool!

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