Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ask the Vet- Humidity

Lowcountry Dog Magazine

Heat and humidity tend to affect dogs worse than people due to differences in the way dogs are able to cool themselves. Our primary method of cooling is by producing sweat to evaporate the heat away. Anyone that goes outside when the humidity is 90% causing the heat index to rise to 110 knows how much we rely on this process. Dogs do not have sweat glands over their body to accomplish this though. They “sweat” through panting and through their foot pads. These are the evaporative areas of a dog’s body. As dogs pant they are able to move a large amount of heat out of the body and evaporate it away over their wet tongues. As humidity rises, water cannot evaporate as well so the heat will not evaporate effectively. This makes dogs more susceptible to heat related diseases such as heat stroke in the summer months.

Dogs’ temperatures are normally 100-102. If they are exposed to heat during the summers here, their temperatures can easily rise to 105. At this temperature, you may notice they begin panting or act like they cannot catch their breath. You may notice their tongue hanging to the side of their mouths while panting and extended out as far as it seems able to rather than wanting with their tongue out of the front of their mouths. As their temperatures increase to 106-107, dogs can develop a rapid pulses, begin acting dizzy, collapse or lie down and refuse to walk, develop vomiting or diarrhea, or develop bright red gums. As their temperatures approach 108-110, they can suffer brain, liver, and kidney damage that can be irreversible.

The first thing that should be done is prevention. Do not take your dogs out to play in the heat of the day, which during the summers here is almost all of the time. A short early morning or late night walk would be in the best interest of our pets. Do not take them on their normal 30 minute or hour long walks. It can take less than 15 minutes to cause a heat stroke if the conditions are right. Acclimate your dogs to the heat by exposing them to short walks or a few minutes of play while the temperatures are increasing. I have seen people taking their overweight large breed dogs for mid-day runs in the summer. If these pets are not used to a 30 minute walk in the winter, they will not be ready to handle this activity level. Use caution with brachycephalic breeds (those dogs with smushed faces such as boston terriers or shitzus), elderly or very young dogs, dogs with health conditions that compromise their ability to pant effectively (pets with lung disease) or heart disease. Keep outdoor dogs indoors during the summer months. Do not take them on car rides as the heat in a car easily rise to 130 degrees within just a few minutes, even with windows open.

If you notice your dog becoming overheated, discontinue activity, remove them from the source of heat immediately, and place them in a cool environment (air conditioning would be the best option). Cool them with cool (not cold or ice) water over their backs or bellies. Allow plenty of access to water. A rectal temperature can be taken. If this is over 106, they should be seen by a vet for emergency care. You should begin your cooling efforts before placing them in the car though as cooling your pet is the most important aspect of treatment initially. If their temperature is below 106 but they do not seem to be cooling off or are acting abnormally in any way (see symptoms described above) you should take them to a vet immediately.

Heat commonly requires very aggressive veterinary care and even with the best of care they can have permanent organ damage or may survive the incident at all. It can also be very costly to treat. Prevention is the best treatment for this problem so when your dog brings you his tennis ball for a game of catch and the heat index outside is 108, tell him no and give him a frosty paw to enjoy in the cool air conditioning instead.

-Dr. Kelly Love

Veterinary Specialty Care offer the highest quality specialized medical and surgical care available for your pet. We use only state-of-the-art technology for our procedures and employ Board Certified Specialists with advanced training in cardiology, oncology critical care, neurology, anesthesia, internal medicine, radiology, and surgery which is enhanced by our caring, experienced staff.
If they are exposed to heat during the summers here, their temperatures can easily rise to 105.

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