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Summer can be a great time for outdoor fun at the beach or on picnics.  Tragedy can strike, however, if proper precautions are not taken to prevent heat stroke.  At our practice, most cases of heat stroke are seen in dogs, especially those that have a heavy coat, are overweight, or have a very short muzzle such as English Bulldogs and Pugs.  Older dogs in general have more health problems such as heart or respiratory disease than younger animals.  This makes them more susceptible to heat stroke.     

Heat stroke is an emergency that requires immediate veterinary attention.  It is therefore important for owners to recognize the early warning signs of this condition.   Your pet may become less energetic and its breathing rate increases as their temperature starts to rise.  Unlike humans, dogs can only sweat from their paw pads.  Normally, they will pant to cool off, but in a crisis such as heat stroke their body will be unable to compensate for the rapid increase in body temperature in this manner. Normal gums are usually pink with some black pigmentation.  If the gums become pale pink or white this can indicate that your pet is going into shock from over heating.  Heat stroke can strike in a matter of minutes during the hottest days of the summer, so prevention is vital.  Just like children, dogs and cats can overheat when left in a car for even a few minutes regardless of whether the windows are left partially open.  Without treatment heat stroke your pet can collapse, go into a coma, or even die.

Dogs that stay indoors in air conditioning should be watched while they are outside and exercised should during cooler times of the day.  Dogs that live outside should be kept in shaded areas with plenty of water available.  A small children’s swimming pool can even be used by dogs to take a dip in when they feel hot, provided that it too is in the shade.  Following simple precautions and keeping a close eye on your pets in hot weather can save them from this potentially fatal disease.         

By Dr. Sarah Stalnaker

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