We have all heard the caution before. As the weather gets hotter, heat stroke is a real concern in dogs and cats. But is locking your pet in the car for ten minutes really that bad? Are there other scenarios we have to be aware of? Can heat stroke really come on in ten minutes/ The answers to the above questions are yes, yes and yes. The interior temperature of a car that is parked in sunlight will rise from 70 degrees (assuming that is the outside temperature) to 93 degrees in ten minutes. Give it another ten minutes and the interior will be well over one hundred. Even when not parked in direct sunlight the interior heats up at an alarming rate. Without cooling, such as A/C , an adequate water supply and ventilation, a canine will rapidly progress from warm to mildly overheated to heat stroke and ultimately death within a matter of thirty minutes. Even if the family dog is lucky enough to survive, once heat stroke occurs, a host of very serious and painful diseases may occur. DIC (a severe hemorrhaging disease), cerebral edema (brain swelling) are just two of the common progressions of pets that have suffered a heat stroke.
So if we don’t lock our pets in the car do we still have to worry about heat related diseases? Again the answer is yes. Young active cats may engage in extremely active play indoors as part of their social behavior. If the house is warm, that is 80 degrees or warmer this play may result in overheating. Overheating is often evidenced by panting, a uncharacteristic behavior in cats. If the play continues, overheating worsens resulting in nervousness and anxiety leading to an acceleration of the pet’s body temperature often reaching 105 degrees or greater. At this point the cat needs to be cooled down immediately with cold water baths or his or her body temperature will continue to escalate until serious illness or death becomes nearly certain.
The above scenario can also occur in dogs although they seem to have an ability to regulate their temperature and behavior a bit earlier to usually avoid this scenario. That is as long as they are not a canine breed known to have breathing issues. The so called brachiocephalic breeds, that is dogs with short muzzles such as Bulldogs and Pugs will overheat much more quickly than other breeds. As panting and respiratory rate increase the structures in their larynx swell resulting in difficult breathing, heightened anxiety and, once again, further increases in body temperature.
The take away message here is clear:
1. Never leave your pet in a closed car in the summer sun. If your pet is in the car for an unexpected stop, windows must be wide open (of course there is risk of escape here) and the vehicle must be parked in full shade for the entire time.
2. In the heat of the summer keep the window shades down in the house for cooling as well as to avoid outside stimulation leading to uncontrollable excitement of your pet.
3. Provide a room in the house for your pets with fans and/or A/C to maintain a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
4. If your pets are actively engaged in play and you note excessive panting, gagging or rapid breathing stop the play and allow a cool down immediately.
5. Always provide abundant and fresh water for your pets.
6. If you suspect your pet is overheated don’t just wait to see if he or she settles down. Call your local vet immediately and apply cold compresses to the back of the neck or immerse in a cold water bath.
Remember it takes very few minutes for an overheated pet to become seriously, or even critically ill. Summer is finally here. Let’s all make sure we enjoy it safely.