Heat stress: “the silent killer”


The savage sun is no friend to your pets. Without even realizing it, many pet owners make tragic mistakes that just shouldn’t happen.Dogs, tethered animals, aquarium fish, horses and even pet budgies and guinea pigs commonly suffer heat stress because of human error.Unlike humans, most animals can’t sweat to reduce body heat. Instead, dogs and cats lose heat by panting but there is a limit as to the amount of heat they can shed in this manner.
Dogs in hot cars
The most common mistake is where a dog dies after being left in a hot car. This should never happen, but it does, time and time again. The rules are simple. At this time of year, don’t leave your dog unattended in your car, even with the windows down. Many say, “But I’m only going into the shop for a gallon of milk – I’ll just be a minute”. The ‘just a minute’ extends very quickly if the shop is busy or if you happen to meet a talkative friend. The type of car you drive is also relevant. Those with large glass areas such as hatchbacks and those that are dark in color heat up more quickly than other cars. Studies on various makes of popular cars have determined that dark colored hatchback cars heat up the quickest with temperatures reaching 73 degrees centigrade during testing. This was almost double the outside temperature. In six minutes the temperature of most cars is up to 55 degrees centigrade. If your dog is in the car at this temperature, it will be near death.
What dogs are susceptible to heat stroke?
No matter how healthy your dog is it will not survive if locked in a hot car. However, heatstroke also occurs in other situations, often simply because the weather is hot and humid and people make silly mistakes. All short nosed breeds of dogs, such as Bull Dogs, Pugs and the Pekingese, are very susceptible to heat stress. Obese dogs and cats are at risk too, especially small, fat dogs. Dogs or cats with poor circulation and dogs with any respiratory disease are also susceptible. The biggest risk is from a high ambient temperature in association with high humidity and lack of air circulation – exactly what happens in a car.
Jogging dogs
Extra care needs to be taken when you are out jogging with your dog this summer. Naturally, jog or walk in the cooler times of day, either early morning or late evening, and stop if your dog is struggling to keep up. A dog is so faithful that it won’t want to be left behind and will ignore those vital messages from its body that say ‘stop’ and is in danger of collapse from heat stress. Stop regularly to give your dog a rest and a drink, or even better a cooling swim.
Backyard bungles
Many animals in gardens, yards and paddocks also suffer heat stress. Any animal tethered is at risk. I have seen dogs, goats, cattle and horses die from heat stress when tethered. Animals confined in concrete pens or even birds in cages are also at risk, as they cannot escape the unforgiving heat. If you must tether your animal be absolutely sure that it has ample shade. Many animals twist their tether around a post or tree. They get ‘strung up’ by the neck as they wind themselves around the post. Therefore, as well as partial asphyxiation (choking), they cook in the sun. If you have an animal in an enclosure, be sure that you provide shade. An aluminum kennel in the full sun is nothing other than a giant cooker. Kennels must be in the shade and you should insulate the roof, and aviaries and birdcages must be in the shade for the whole day. Consider having a sleeping area under your house for your dog. The house will provide excellent insulation. Naturally, all animals need water and the bowls should always be placed in the shade. In this heat, two water bowls are needed, should one be overturned.

Emergency care
Heat stroke causes incredible damage. Affected animals will first show excitation, followed by loss of balance and seizures, as the blood vessels in the brain engorge. A coma will follow. Heart failure is common and many other changes in body organs occur. The animal is at grave risk. Emergency first aid is vital and you will need to get to a vet quickly. While you are contacting your vet, cool the animal by placing it in a room temperature (not iced) water bath or by hosing it. Place the wet animal in front of the fan and apply ice packs to its head.Your veterinarian will need to give medication to control any seizures and to prevent further damage being caused to the animal’s brain. He or she may give it a water enema to reduce its body temperature. It is likely that your pet will be placed onto an intravenous drip. Your vet may also anaesthetize your pet to prevent seizures. Don’t let your pet get hot under the collar in summer. Be cautious and don’t let the heat claim your pet as its trophy.