Melting Down — Hyperthermia in our Pets

I felt this way this week!

I felt this way this week!

I thought this would be an appropriate topic for this week since I felt like I was melting the day Simpsonville was without power. I also had firsthand observation on the day that I locked Rocket and I out of the clinic — it has been a hard couple of weeks.

I know that quite a few of my clients and friends work, compete or just enjoy their pets outside in the summer but we all need to know some basic information on how our pets can overheat and what to do in that situation. This information should help you recognize the signs of heat distress.

Hyperthermia is increased temperature in our pets. Our pets are unable to dissipate heat well so they pant to help with that problem. We also know that they will “sweat” a little through their feet but not enough to help. If your pet’s temperature is too high for too long it can cause severe organ injury and failure. Working and competing pets can have temperatures up to 108 degrees but it should return to normal quickly.

Risks for heat injury can include such things as rapid changes in air temperature (cool one day then hot the next), high temperatures, high humidity, rough terrain, conditioning of the pet and handler, weight of the pet, structure of the pet, medical issues of the pet and the type of work the pet does. Structural and medical issues include such things as a short nose/face, hypothyroidism, and obesity to name a few.

Your pet will give some warning signs that he is overheating but you must be aware and watching for them. These signs can include such things as: excessive panting that can become harsh or noisy, flattening and curling of the tongue (tongue can look “spade” like), looking for shade, being calmer than normal, wanting to sit or lie down, weakness and collapse or death.

There is talk about doing “heat acclimation” in pets and this can be achieved somewhat by exposing the pet gradually to the increasing temperatures. Acclimation will not work well if the pet is just exposed to the heat but they must be “worked” in it also. The recommendation is that it takes at least 2 weeks to acclimatize them to the temperatures but we must also keep them in top physical condition for it to work the best.

Prevention is the best cure so watch your pet carefully and if any signs are noted try the following suggestions:

  • Maintain hydration — water is the best but you may need to carry water because taste may vary by location and if your pet won’t drink it, it can’t help them
  • Lots of rest in shaded areas, good ventilation, away from the activity and interaction of others
  • If your pet wears a muzzle — remove it whenever possible
  • Cooling mats and vests appear to be helpful but as a cooling technique after working

If your pet should overheat, you need to cool them down to 103 as quickly as possible so apply water to their body. If not able to get them totally wet try cooling the head, neck and abdomen at the very least. Once you have them wet try fanning them while getting them to the veterinarian as quickly as possible. Make sure that your veterinarian does blood work because the effects of hyperthermia can last for days. Your pet’s temperature may not regulate properly for a few days so closely monitor it yourself.

Hyperthermia is a very scary situation and we all need to keep a close eye on not only our pets but ourselves. Have a great summer and be safe!


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