The heat is unbearable these days, and while you may not immediately think of the hazard this poses to your pets, they can suffer from dangerous heat strokes – even if left in a shaded area.

This time of year, there is an uptick in heat stroke cases, for dogs in particular, according to St. Maarten Veterinary Clinic. The same can happen for cats, of course, but they are usually allowed to roam freely, and generally have more access to indoor areas.

The clinic recently saw one dog die of heat stroke. The owners thought they had provided him with what he needed before leaving for work– water and shelter in the shade – but as it turned out, the dog’s chain was too short for him to access the water. The heat and humidity proved too much, and they found him dead when they returned home.

In general, it can take two months for dogs to become acclimatised to temperature changes. They can die of heat stroke in just 15 minutes, and an increase of just 2 degrees Celsius is all it takes for it to kick in. At around 43 degrees Celsius, their organs begin to fail.

Symptoms

Symptoms include staggering or uncoordinated movements, collapse, excessive panting and drooling, glassy eyes, fearful expression, abnormally high heartbeat and body temperature (the normal temperature is 38.5 degrees Celsius), reddened gums and tongue, vomiting and seizures.

Precautions

Some pet owners have little choice but to tie their dogs outside. Even if you must do this, make sure they have access to fresh water, in a cool, shaded and breezy area. Keep in mind that shaded areas can still be dangerous if it’s humid and there isn’t enough fresh air. 

When it’s extra hot, restrict exercise. Take them for walks during cooler parts of the day – very early mornings or in the evening time. The clinic also advises that owners protect their dog's feet with a barrier (socks, dog shoes, etc.) when on walks, at the beach, or kept outside.

Remember that temperatures can rise quickly in the mornings. Obviously, don’t leave dogs in cars, as temperatures rise quickly and there is lack of ventilation.

Use extra precaution if you own short nosed, flat-faced breeds such as Shih Tzus and English Bulldogs. These dogs are more vulnerable to heat stroke, since they can’t expel heat as quickly as other canines. Just like humans, older and overweight dogs are also more vulnerable to the risks of excessive heat.

What to do

If your pet has had a heat stroke, take the following measures and call your vet immediately, even if you manage to cool them down. Your animal may be able to make a full recovery, but it is necessary for them to be assessed by the vet urgently because of potential damage to internal organs.

Move your pet to a cooler area and gradually lower their temperature. Let them drink cool (not iced) water, but don’t force them to. Gently hose them down with cool (not cold) water. You can also use a wet towel, and add a small amount of rubbing alcohol if you have it handy. Using water that is too cold could shock your pet’s body.

Pay extra attention to the extremities, such as tongue, ears and feet, and cool them down first. Make sure you don’t submerge their heads in water while attempting to cool them off. If you have a thermometer, check their temperature rectally, looking for an ideal temperature of 38.5 degrees Celsius.

St. Maarten Veterinary Clinic reached out to bring awareness to the topic on behalf of all veterinary clinics on the island. Graphic: Vets Now emergency services.