Pant, pant!

Is the heat getting you down? If you’re hot and sweaty most of the time, spare a thought for your pets. They can be subject to deadly heat strokes, warn veterinarians
By Malaka Rodrigo

I once had a Pomeranian called Punkey that was cute and cuddlesome. But on one tragic day, it was left alone in the car for about five minutes with a half open window. When we came got back to the car, Punkey was panting vigorously.

It drank all the water given to it, but still continued panting with its tongue out. Later that night it died. I did not realise the reason for the death could have been a ‘heat stroke’, until I started researching this article.

Before and after: Duke with his full coat (above) and (below) after a trim

“Leaving a dog in a vehicle in hot weather can be fatal. A parked vehicle can get heated in no time and can bring on a heat stroke in your pet dog,” said Dr. Jagath Jayasekera, a veterinary surgeon of the National Zoological Gardens.

Dogs do not sweat through their skin like humans and they release heat primarily by panting. If a dog cannot effectively expel heat with this act, its internal body temperature begins to rise. This can damage the animal’s internal organs, which can be a cause of death if not treated promptly.

Symptoms of heat stroke include excessive panting or difficulty in breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, a state of unconsciousness or even collapse. The situation can be dangerous if the dog gets a fit (seizure), bloody diarrhoea or vomits along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees indicating that internal organs are damaged. “If your pet shows these signs, the animal should be immediately taken to a veterinary surgeon,” advised Dr. Jayasekera.

It is said that the animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept in cool places as much as possible in these days where outside temperatures are very high.

The Sunday Times also spoke to a few dog owners to find out how they help their pets cope with the unbearable heat these days. “We do not chain our Great Dane. Whenever it is hot, our dog Bonzo comes near the fan,” Sankha Wanniatchi told us. He usually bathes his seven-year-old pet once a week, but does so more frequently these days to help it to cope with the heat.

Vets advise that it’s best to bathe dogs in the morning around 10, when it is not too hot outside. Another mechanism is to have a water sprinkler near the kennel and activate it occasionally. The kennel should be moved to shady places and the roof can have a heat reflective roofing foil.

“We trim our dog’s fur during warmer periods of the year,” said Dulani – the owner of Duke, a mixed breed ( Japanese Spitz and Pomeranian). Dulani had received this advice from her veterinary surgeon a few years ago and has continued the practice. Duke apparently enjoys the shorter hair cut in warmer periods and is more active, Dulani says.

She also has a cat that seeks out shady corners on these warmer days. “Perhaps, cats are less prone to stress in hot weather as they are more domestic and spend the day inside the house or have the ability to creep into a shady cooler place than dogs,” she said.

Dr. Jayasekera also warned that the parasite attacks can be on the rise as warm weather can cause an outbreak of ticks etc.

Heat stress can also lower the immune system of animals and pets can be more vulnerable to diseases like fungi attacks and skin rashes during this period. Vitamins can be helpful for pets too – get your vet’s advice.

Stages of overheating

  • Your dog will begin to “heave” as it pants
  • Your dog will begin to “roar” - best described as sounding like severe asthma
  • It will begin to look tired and distressed
  • Its tongue will be very floppy and very red in colour
  • Its body temperature will rise (normal temp approx 38.6oC)
  • Its airway will swell and throat become full of white foam (caused through the excessive panting)
  • It will quickly become exhausted and will fight for breath
  • it could die

How to prevent ‘heat strokes’

  • NEVER leave your dog alone in the car on a warm day, regardless of whether the windows are open.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise on warm days. When outside, opt for shady areas.
  • Keep fresh cool water available at all times.
  • Do not expose dogs with airway disease or impaired breathing to prolonged heat.
  • Don’t confine dogs to concrete areas or keep them chained without shade in hot weather.
  • Confine a dog only in an open wire kennel.
  • Provide shade and cool water to dogs living in outdoor shelters.
  • Certain types of dogs are more sensitive to heat - especially obese dogs and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds. Use extreme caution when these dogs are exposed to heat.

First aid

  • First, move your dog out of the heat and away from the sun right away.
  • Begin cooling your dog by placing cool, wet rags or washcloths on the body - especially on the foot pads and around the head.
  • DO NOT use ice or very cold water! Extreme cold can cause the blood vessels to constrict, preventing the body’s core from cooling and actually causing the internal temperature to further rise. In addition, over-cooling can cause hypothermia, introducing a host of new problems. When the body temperature reaches 103°, stop cooling.
  • Offer your dog cool water, but do not force water into your dog’s mouth.
  • Call or visit your vet right away - even if your dog seems better. Internal damage might not be obvious to the naked eye, so an examination is necessary (and further testing may be recommended).
  • Put a cold damp towel under the dog for the journey to see vet
  • Recruit others to help you - ask someone to call the vet while others help you cool your dog.

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