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Pet death from heat stroke a preventable tragedy

June 29th, 2013 11:17 pm by Nick Shepherd

Pet death from heat stroke a preventable tragedy

Dr. Kate Zimmerman of Tri-County Veterinary Hospital in Bluff City said heat stroke in dogs can occur in as little as a half-hour or 15 minutes if the pet is left in a car. Photo by David Grace.

When summertime rolls around, the inevitable happens; somewhere in the region somebody’s pet will be left in a car on a hot day and end up dying from heat stroke.

It doesn’t have to happen, according to veterinarian Dr. Kate Zimmerman of Tri-County Veterinary Hospital in Bluff City. She says there are a few simple tips to keep your pet safe during the summer.

“If you have a pet in a car and it is over 70 degrees, you need to leave the car on and the air conditioning going or leave the dog at home,” she said. “If you are putting pets outside or have an outside exclusive dog, you need to make sure they have plenty of water and shade.” 

Zimmerman said heat stroke in dogs can set in quickly. A common misconception is that it takes a long time for heat stroke to set in, when in reality it can take as little as a half-hour or 15 minutes if the pet is left in a car. Some of the signs of overheating or hyperthermia are vigorous panting at rest, unwillingness to rise, frothing from nose or mouth or rigid muscles.

Dogs have two ways of cooling themselves, radiant cooling and panting. Radiant cooling is cooling they get from their environment. When dogs start to pant, they are really getting warm, Zimmerman said. During the summer, radiant cooling can become difficult, but if they have plenty of water and drink a lot, dogs can put up with a tremendous amount of heat.

A few dogs are predisposed to heat stroke. Dogs that have a “smooshed” face, such as Boston terriers and pugs, are more vulnerable to heat stroke than long-snouted dogs because all of their sinuses are pushed together, Zimmerman said. Dogs with age-related diseases can also be vulnerable to heat stroke.

Any dog is vulnerable to heat stroke, really.

“You can leave a perfectly healthy dog outside and an hour later come back and have a dead dog,” she said. “You can even leave a dog with water and shade, but some people don’t think about whether or not the dog can get tangled and not be able to reach the water or shade.” 

She also said that some dogs get themselves into trouble because they like to knock their water bowl over. She suggested a heavier water bowl or a water bowl that attaches to something.

She recommends an overhead zip line for dogs who are going to be put outside for any length of time. The zip line would prevent the dog from getting tangled up on anything. She said if a dog owner does use the zip line, to make sure there is a shady area where the dog can go if it’s tired.

Dog houses can also be dangerous. Certain doghouses, like Igloo, help to ventilate during the summer months. But Zimmerman said some dog houses can be deadly, especially hand-built houses that have tar roofs.

“You’ve got to be careful about dog houses because it can become an oven,” she said. “If it’s 85 degrees outside, it can probably be more like 95 degrees inside a dog house.” 

Some tips to keeps your dog cool during the summer: 

• If you have a long-haired dog, shave it during the summer.

• Make sure your dog has access to shade.

• Make sure it has plenty of water.

• Bring it indoors if possible.

• Leave a fan near the dog.

• Provide a wading pool for the dog to play in or lie down in if it gets too hot.

Zimmerman said if you own a long-haired dog, they can get sunburned. She said it’s best to see a veterinarian about the best length of the hair and how to prevent your dog getting sunburned.

She said the most important thing during the summer is to see a veterinarian about how to protect your animal.

“Make sure your animal has seen a vet recently,” Zimmerman said. “Lots of things can predispose dogs to heat trouble. The best bet is to see a vet about the heat.” 


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