An alarming spike in the number of pets suffering from heatstroke has some veterinarians warning pet owners of the dangers the Florida heat can have on animals. The cause of the heatstroke can be surprising. "Most pet owners are aware of the dangers of keeping a pet confined in a hot car," said Dr. Miryam Reems, a veterinary critical care specialist at Florida Veterinary Specialists. "Unfortunately, heatstroke can occur in more common ways from a walk around the neighborhood to simple activities outside." • Heatstroke occurs when the pet's natural defense system cannot handle the heat building up inside his body. Usually, a dog handles heat through respiratory measures such as panting. When the dog cannot do so, his body will overheat. Heatstroke that occurs as a result of physical activity or exercise usually takes place when pets are exposed to hot temperatures. • "The heat index is particularly important because if the weather forecast says it will be 85 degrees and the humidity is 89 percent it will actually feel like 101 degrees outside," said Reems. "I recommend that pet owners avoid exercising or walking their pets during the middle of the day. When it is this hot outside, the best times for physical activity are before 9 a.m. or after 7 p.m." • Pet owners need to be aware that although there are measures they can take to prevent heatstroke, it can occur at any time of the day. Some pets can get heatstroke while swimming. Even the most athletic breeds and dogs that are very fit can suffer from heatstroke. • Heatstroke is a veterinary emergency and should be treated immediately upon the recognition of symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of heatstroke
• Excessive panting
• Profuse salivation
• Glazed eyes or staring
• Anxiousness or restlessness
• Gums and tongue turn bright red or purple
• Trouble standing or walking
If you suspect that your pet is suffering from heatstroke, Reems recommends that you try to cool down the animal by soaking your pet with towels and water and placing the pet in front of a fan, if possible. Then contact your veterinarian immediately. It is not recommended to use ice or ice cold water because this may lead to cooling the body too quickly.
Heatstroke prevention tips
Reems recommends pet owners follow these tips to prevent heatstroke:
Keep pets inside on hot days. Even if your yard has shady areas, keep in mind the shadow shifts throughout the day.
Always have water available. Whether inside or out, be sure your pet has clean cool water to drink at all times. If you go for a walk or an outing, take plenty of water along. You can also consider thoroughly wetting your dog's body before a walk.
Keep pets well groomed. This helps their fur do what it is intended to do — protect them from the sun and insulate them from heat. If their coat is matted and tangled, the fur may actually trap heat.
Maintain a healthy weight. Keep walks at a gentle pace and if your pet seems tired, rest a bit or stop the activity. Limit longer walks to early morning or evenings when the sun is not directly overhead and temperatures are more comfortable.