Keep Your Pets Safe During the Dog Days of Summer

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    Ellen Fannon
    Ellen Fannon
    Ellen has been making up stories since before she could write. Ellen is a practicing veterinarian, former missionary, foster parent, pastor’s wife, and church pianist/organist. She originated and wrote a newspaper column on pet care for six years before taking an assignment with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. She lives in Valparaiso, Florida with her husband, son, and assorted pets.

    There is probably no better example of unconditional love on this earth as the love shown by a dog for its owner. For this reason, we want to be good stewards of the animal companions with whom we have been blessed and keep our pets safe during the hot days of summer.

    Veterinarians see the tragic results of heat stroke (hyperthermia) all too often, and even with prompt emergency treatment, an estimated 50 percent will die.

    As we enter the “dog days” of summer, we need to take extra precautions against allowing our pets to get overheated. Veterinarians see the tragic results of heat stroke (hyperthermia) all too often, and even with prompt emergency treatment, an estimated 50% will die. With the exception of their paw pads, animals do not sweat to dissipate excess body heat like humans do.

    Heat stroke is characterized by high body temperature and sudden collapse. The initial signs of impending heat stroke may be extreme panting and an anxious expression, followed by weakness, difficulty breathing, red, muddy, or pale coloration of the gums, and finally collapse. Profuse salivation and vomiting may also occur. The body temperature often exceeds 106 degrees F.

    An extremely high body temperature sets into motion a series of events which ultimately may lead to multiple organ failure. The heart and respiratory actions become weak, with the likelihood of damage to the heart muscle, decreased blood pressure, and systemic shock. The kidneys do not receive adequate blood pressure to filter waste products. The liver often fails, resulting in further build-up of toxic metabolic wastes, as well as problems with normal blood clotting. The brain may swell, causing irreversible brain damage. Congestion of other abdominal organs, such as the gut, may lead to massive tissue death. There is nothing more heartbreaking for a veterinarian (or an owner) than to successfully treat an animal for heat stroke only to have it succumb to multiple organ failure a day or two later.

    If you suspect heat stroke in your pet, initiate immediate first aid by cooling it off as rapidly as possible.

    Heat stroke frequently occurs when animals are left in closed environments in the sun, such as the car. Even cracking the windows in a car will not prevent overheating, due to the speed at which temperatures rise inside cars. However, heat stroke can also occur when animals are left outside with no access to shade and/or water.

    Exercising dogs during the heat of the day can lead to disaster, for both pet and owner. Factors other than heat and humidity can predispose certain individuals to heat stroke. Preexisting heart disease, obesity, hyperactivity, and seizures can make some animals more susceptible to heat stroke. Certain breeds of dogs, such as the Pekingese, Boston terrier, Bulldog, Pug, and other flat-faced breeds may be more susceptible to heat stroke due to the anatomy of their upper respiratory tract.

    Genesis 1:26: Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (NIV)

    If you suspect heat stroke in your pet, initiate immediate first aid by cooling it off as rapidly as possible. Do this before transporting it to the vet. The few minutes trip to the vet could mean the difference between life and death in an animal with a high body temperature. You can cool the animal by saturating it with cold water from a hose or by placing it in a bathtub filled with cold water. Even if you incorrectly assume the animal has suffered heat stroke, the worst thing that will happen is you will transport a wet animal to the vet. Ice packs can be applied to the head. Remember, time is of the essence, so work quickly! Then, even if your pet seems to be okay, transport it to the vet. It may need to be treated for shock with intravenous fluids and monitored for potential complications. If possible, have someone call ahead to alert the clinic you are on the way with an emergency, so they can be ready.

    Guard against heat stroke by being sure your pet always has protection from the sun and has adequate water. Minimize strenuous activity—especially during the heat of the day—and NEVER, EVER leave the animal in a car during the summertime, even for short periods.

    Psalm 50:10-11: For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the creatures of the field are mine. (NIV)


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