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Heat Stroke and Your Pet

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If your pet becomes overheated, you can put it in a tub of cool water; or use a garden hose or a small wading pool.  And take your furry buddy to the veterinarian to determine if there has been any damage to internal organs!  Heat stroke can cause brain swelling or kidney failure, even after you get your pet cooled down.  


Summertime heat can pose a serious health risk for our pets. It’s often a combination of the temperature and the humidity in the air that creates the danger, because of the way a pet’s body rids itself of excess heat.

As humans, when we get hot we sweat – all over; the evaporation of the sweat helps to cool our bodies. Dogs and cats sweat only on the pads of their feet - hardly enough area to do the job. So they pant, moving the air in through their nasal passages then out through their mouths, taking with it the heat and cooling their bodies. The more moisture in the air, the less efficient this process is.

Animals with very short nasal passages, like a Pekinese dog or a Persian cat, may have more difficulty cooling down. Older animals, very young animals, animals who are overweight and those who are ill, may also be less efficient at cooling down in the humid summer heat. And overheated pets may experience heat stroke.

Learning to recognize the signs of heat stroke could help you save your pet’s life. The symptoms include excessive panting, confusion, failure to respond to simple commands, vomiting, and physical collapse. Heat stroke is classified as a medical emergency; it can result in brain damage and can even be fatal.

If you suspect your pet is experiencing heat stroke, get it out of the heat. You can use cool water or damp cloths to help lower its body temperature; do not use ice water which could do more harm than good. The best thing you can do for your best friend is to get it to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.

As with so many other things, the best cure for heat stroke is prevention. If your pet is outdoors during the day, make sure it has a place to stay that remains shaded and well-ventilated, with fresh water available at all times. And keep exercise to a minimum during the heat of the day.

Heat stroke has been called the number one killer of pets during the summertime. Your furry friend is depending on you to keep it cool and safe - to enjoy all the seasons, when you’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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