Public Health Concerns
Heatstroke occurs when a person or an animal is exposed to excessive heat and the body's core temperature rises out of a safe range. A human body cools itself by sweating, but dogs and cats sweat only through the pads of their feet—not through glands all over their bodies. Combine that with the fact that most animals' bodies have a lot more hair than human bodies do, and you'll see why pets (especially dogs) are so susceptible to heatstroke.
Heatstroke in humans and in animals is very serious—sometimes even deadly.
How do dogs and cats cool off if they
The only way dogs and cats can cool themselves is by panting; when a dog or a cat pants, he breathes in air that is cooler than the air in his body (which comes out as his breath). But if the air he breathes in is extremely hot, the exchange of air does him no good. This is why the potential for heatstroke increases when it's very humid. When a pet breathes in humid air, he's essentially just exchanging the warm, wet air in his body for more warm, wet air outside of his body. It's also why you should never leave your pet in a parked vehicle without the air conditioner running, even if it's "just for a minute." The temperature inside a car in the summer can reach 125° to 140° F within minutes, even with the windows rolled down.
In the Texas Panhandle, a lot of heatstroke cases occur when animals are taken to Palo Duro Canyon. The temperature in the canyon is usually around 10° to 15° F hotter than it is up on the ridge. If you take your animal hiking in the canyon, take lots of water for him (about a gallon for every two hours he'll be out there) and make frequent stops so that he can drink. (This is a good idea for you too.) In addition, if your dog has been a bit of a couch potato during the winter, get him used to physical exertion again before taking him on a physically demanding hike. Take him on short walks in the park or through a neighborhood and gradually increase the distance; also, make sure to train him in the type of weather you'll be hiking in. If you're going hiking at 10:00 a.m., when it will be 100° F in the canyon, train your dog beforehand in the middle of the afternoon, when it's 100° in your neighborhood.
How do I recognize heatstroke?
A dog or cat suffering from heatstroke may display one or more of the following signs:
Your veterinarian will continue to attempt to lower your animal's temperature and will likely administer IV fluids with antibiotics. Severe cases sometimes also require oxygen. The vet will probably also check for shock, respiratory distress, intestinal tract bleeding, kidney failure, abnormalities in the heart, brain swelling, and other complications. She might also take blood samples and monitor your pet's blood clotting time.
The amount of hospitalization required will depend on how high your pet's temperature got and how extensive the internal damage is. Temperatures of 107° F or higher will destroy sensitive tissues in the intestinal tract, lungs, and brain. Typically, it's possible to tell within 24 hours of hospitalization whether the animal has suffered any permanent damage as a result of the heatstroke.
How can I prevent heatstroke?
Any pet that cannot adequately cool himself off is at risk for heatstroke, and an animal that gets heatstroke once becomes much more susceptible to it from then on.