thirsty dog

Heat-related stress with pet dogs

When a subject such as heat-related stress is raised, concerning companion animals, one has to specify and confirm that the heat referred to is by no means the attractiveness of a bitch in season, or oestrus, towards the dog.

The heat alluded to in this article is related to the exposure of the pet dog to the climate of the micro- or macro-environment.

One of the more common and life-threatening conditions encountered in dogs during the warm seasons of spring and summer is heat stroke. It may occur in any breed but more likely, obviously, in long-haired types, black dogs and the brachycephalic breeds such as the Pugs, Pekingese and Bulldogs, however, the most common one encountered in private veterinary practice is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier due to its inherent long soft palate and relatively narrow windpipe. Other potential candidates predisposed will be the obese dogs as well as the over-exercised young dog or an elderly dog with a pre-existing illness.

This may occur within twenty minutes in an enclosed car. A dog can die in less than half-an-hour in a closed vehicle during warm weather. This is avoidable by leaving the windows open to a safe, restrictive space and parking in the shade. A dog left in an apartment without air conditioning or open windows will take much longer but capable of producing the same adverse symptoms. Walking, jogging a dog or any form of excessive exercise on a hot day especially with a high humidity is certainly the height of stupidity and irresponsibility.

The dog’s only physiological effective ability to cool and control body temperature is by panting, expiring heat through their breath and to a certain degree through the pores between their toes and on the inside of their ears. With this restriction and a heavy hair coat or being black in colour, which absorbs far more heat than a white dog, body temperature can soar as high as forty three degrees Celsius. In essence, a dog is very well-insulated and given the range of environ temperatures you will find that dogs suffer more readily from the heat than the cold.

Symptoms include panting rapidly with the mouth with the widest compensatory gape possible. The dog will have an anxious expression, a tongue with a tinge of bluishness coupled with a clearly audible rasping respiration. Some may progress to foaming at the mouth and salivation with so much respiratory distress in gasping for air and oxygen that lung damage, such as oedema, heart rate increase and abnormal rhythm may be a sequel. The dog can then become dizzy, disoriented, off-balance, exhibit seizures, dementia then collapse and fall in to a coma and die. Depending on the dog, some will prove the scientific fact that the gastrointestinal tract is the dog’s stress organ by vomiting blood and expelling a liquid haemorrhagic diarrhoea in a very short period of time.

Heatstroke is also known as hyperthermia and when the body heat dissipating mechanisms cannot accommodate or tolerate the excessive temperatures this can lead to multiple organ dysfunction which is usually from over forty-two degrees Celsius and upwards. Hyperthermia can be caused be a variety of other conditions such as an adverse reaction to an anaesthetic, overactive thyroid or a problem with the hypothalamus in the brain. Usually a temperature above thirty-nine degrees Celsius is regarded as high the critical hyperthermia level is at forty-one degrees Celsius.

Dogs often indicate their heat-related stress by panting indoors when people have under-floor heating on during winter. The dog usually tries to find refuge in the kitchen, bathroom or any coolly tiled area where the heating system has not been installed.

Many people object to having their dog’s coats shaved off in summer because they look ridiculous or have no resemblance to the individual or breed they have known. The fact that the dog is suffering in the heat is irrelevant to these owners who hypocritically profess to be animal lovers.

It is a further consideration when transporting a dog to do so in cool climatic conditions or travel by night. A dog can even suffer heatstroke in the hold of an aircraft if it is sedated for the trip and the flight is delayed. The tranquilised animal will be compromised in its breathing and then has to contend with reduced or no ventilation.

When heatstroke is recognised immediate intervention is essential. If symptoms have just started with a grating rapid breathing a mild cyanosis, blueness of the tongue, then the dog can be rushed to any water point such as a tap, hosepipe, shower, swimming pool or bath and the affected individual must be immediately wetted and cooled down. This must be continued until the dog is focused, relaxed and breathing normally. Any symptoms and distress beyond this requires urgent veterinary intensive care. Cooling the animal internally with cold water enemas or placing ice cubes in the rectum helps in certain situations. You have to know when to do this. An ice bag over the dog’s head can reduce brain damage. Treatment for shock, intravenous fluids, temperature monitoring, general organ function supervision, sometimes oxygen supplementation and ventilation may be required in advanced cases. In cases where breathing has reached a life-threatening state and other forms of intervention is not offering sufficient expected relief then a tracheotomy, opening of the windpipe by a veterinarian, may be a necessary desperate measure.

Dogs surviving these heatstroke incidents need to be rested and vigilantly observed for a few days thereafter. Any sign of ill health or failure to urinate, blood in the stools or listlessness will require veterinary treatment.

Pet owners who have experienced this frightening condition will never forget it. Precautionary measures will then have to be implemented to prevent further repeats of this life-threatening condition as any dog that has succumbed to it will be most likely to develop the problem again. With the heat wave there has been an unprecedented increase in heatstroke cases as evidence proves amongst private veterinary practices and animal emergency clinics in Gauteng alone over the past month

Perhaps, the term “getting hot under the collar” may have emanated from a dog with heatstroke in The Long Summer film from a book written by William Faulkner?!

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