How to manage and prevent heat injury—and what you might not know
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
We all love having fun in the sun, dogs included. And some dogs aren’t just playing; they’re seeking lost hikers, partnering with police or training for high-action dog sports. Whether they’re playing or working, though, it’s important to be aware of signs of heat injury and know how to treat it.
You may already know that signs of heatstroke include excessive panting, staggering, bloody diarrhea, collapse, seizures and shock. But what Leo Egar, VMD, wants you to know is how to recognize signs of heat stress early.
Dr. Egar, who practices in Phoenix, has been part of the veterinary medical response to several major disasters and spoke at the K9 Sport and Scent Work Conference in Palm Springs, California, in January.
“We want dogs to be able to tolerate some degree of thermal stress as they work and play,” he says. “Heat stress, or mild heat injury, is a normal reaction to increased exercise or ambient heat.”
When dogs are working or playing, the body produces heat. Thermoregulation is the body’s attempt to balance heat gain and heat loss. A body temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit is defined as heat stress; more than 105 as heat exhaustion; and more than 106 as heat stroke.
But the first thing to know is that temperature isn’t everything.
“You cannot predict heat injury based on body temperature alone,” he says. “There’s too much variance between dogs, conditions and measurement methods.”
So knowing your dog’s “normal” is important. For dogs, normal resting temperature can range from 99 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Fit dogs at a moderate activity level might have a body temperature ranging from 104 to 107, depending on individual dog’s metabolism, intensity of activity and ambient temperature.
“This particular range is normal for many fit working dogs during moderate work and has no adverse effect,” Dr. Egar says. “We don’t have a well-defined set point for dogs, but you should know what your dog’s normal is.”
One sign of heat stress to watch for is decreased moisture on nose tissue, caused by dehydration. Dogs who are dehydrated tire more quickly and have less interest in rewards such as treats or play.
Other signs of thermal stress include seeking shade, calming down, limiting movement, resting in place, choosing to sit or lie down, or sprawling on cool ground. If you call them, they might be slow to return to you -- as if saying, “I’ll do it if you ask me to, but I really don’t want to.”
Tongue length and uncontrolled panting -- when the dog is unable to stop -- can also signal heat stress. When that tongue is out long and wide, the dog is maximizing surface and airway area to increase evaporation and heat dissipation.
When you see these signs, take action. That might mean having your dog sit and cool down on her own, or making use of air conditioning or a fan.
Active cooling techniques include hosing down the dog, putting him in water or putting ice packs on him. Armpits are the best places to apply active cooling because they’re less insulated by fur and have a lot of large blood vessels. Ears can also be good, for the same reasons.
It’s OK to cool dogs rapidly, and it’s OK to use cold water.
“It’s a common myth that if you take a hot dog and you cool him too quickly, you’ll cause shock,” Dr. Egar says. “Not true. Not a single clinical study validates that.”
On a hike or during play on a hot day, take a time out so your dog can drink water and stay hydrated. Flavored water may encourage him to drink more, but electrolyte supplements don’t provide any special benefit.
Finally, don’t rely on gadgets such as fans, alarms, or cooling vests or mats. Anything can break, so always check on your dog.
can signal dementia
Q: I inherited my mother’s 15-year-old cat, and I notice that she wanders and yowls in the middle of the night. My veterinarian said pets can get dementia, and this might be one of the signs. Is there anything we can do for her?
A: Your veterinarian is correct. Cats and dogs with dementia tend to show signs such as disorientation (getting “lost” in corners or staring into space); their interactions with people may change -- for instance, maybe your cat doesn’t seek out your lap as often; sleep disruption, such as the night wandering and yowling you’ve noticed; housetraining misses; and changes in activity level. (The acronym to help remember dementia-related changes is DISHA.)
There’s no test for identifying dementia in pets, but veterinarians usually diagnose it after ruling out other health problems that could cause similar signs. For instance, aching knees or hips (leading to difficulty or pain getting in and out of the litter box) or urinary tract infections could cause housetraining issues. Pets with kidney disease or diabetes often have urine that looks sterile under a microscope but may actually be teeming with bacteria. Hypertension (high blood pressure) takes a toll on blood vessels in the brain, which may contribute to development of dementia.
The good news is that diet and medication may help. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and medium-chain triglycerides can enhance brain health. Medication is available to control hypertension in cats, lowering blood pressure to safer levels. And a drug called selegiline (Anipryl), which affects attentiveness and the sleep-wake cycle by altering the concentration of brain chemicals, sometimes helps. For pets with painful joints, we have medications that can ease the aches. These changes can help to slow the progression of cognitive dysfunction in pets and improve their quality of life. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
dogs and cats, too
-- Have you ever wondered if pets get itchy from mosquito bites the way people do? We asked parasitologist Byron Blagburn, Ph.D., distinguished university professor in the department of pathobiology at Auburn University, to weigh in. “We know that cats, for example, suffer from what we call a planar dermatitis,” he says. “That’s the area just above the nose, and it’s a response to an allergy to mosquito bites. Exposed areas of the skin in dogs could likely also exhibit some allergic reaction. So the answer is yes, absolutely. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t presume that pets are irritated by mosquito bites and suffer allergic reactions to them.”
-- When we think of pets being bitten by snakes, it’s usually dogs who come to mind, but cats tangle with reptiles, too. They have an advantage over dogs in their fast-clotting blood, according to a study from Australia, published last month in the journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology. Rapid clotting ability means cats are less likely than dogs to bleed to death in a matter of minutes. That makes them twice as likely as dogs to survive the bite of venomous snake, researchers found. Another reason: Dogs tend to lead with their nose and mouth, which have many blood vessels that can spread venom quickly. Cats are more likely to swat at snakes with their paws, reducing their risk.
-- There’s a lot to celebrate this month when it comes to pets. It’s Adopt-A-Cat Month, Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month, National Foster-A-Pet Month, National Pet Preparedness Month and National Microchipping Month. And don’t forget Pet Appreciation Week (June 7-13) and Take Your Pet to Work Week (June 22-26). Also this month are Best Friends Day (June 8), World Pet Memorial Day (June 9), National Dog Party Day (June 21), and Cat World Domination Day (June 24). -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.