Dog days aren't over: How to manage heatstroke in pets

Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 11 2020 05:57 AM | Updated as of May 12 2020 12:29 PM

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MANILA -- (UPDATE) The heat is on. While the wet season typically begins towards the end of May, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) said dog days will continue to persist.

Last Saturday, the heat index at Sangley Point, Cavite City peaked at a blistering 50°C. Meanwhile, the heat index in different parts of the country scorched from 45°C-49°C. 

According to PAGASA, heat indices between 41°C and 54ºC are considered “dangerous” and could lead to heat exhaustion or worse — heatstroke. 

Animal welfare group Pawssion Project urged the public to keep in mind that our furry companions are also affected by the searing weather in the same way. 

However unlike humans, animals are unable to voice their concern, ask for water, or make extra measures to cool themselves down (turn on the electric fan/aircon, apply cold compress, etc). 

KNOW THE SIGNS OF HEAT STROKE 

Dogs and cats merely dispel heat by panting, and through their paw pads. Unfortunately at times, this is not enough, causing the animal’s temperature to rise to a dangerous level, which could immediately progress to a heatstroke. 

Since an animal’s welfare is almost entirely dependent on their owners, veterinarian Dr. Kitsie Torres cautioned pet parents to be alert to the symptoms of a heatstroke as it is a serious emergency which could rapidly lead to fatal consequences such as death, if left untreated. 

“I’ve seen too many dogs and cats die from a heatstroke. Please keep your dogs and cats cool and watch out for signs,” she said.

Heavy panting, excessive drooling, bright red or purple gums and tongue, vomiting and/or diarrhea, lethargy, unsteadiness, seizures, and unconsciousness are among the tell-tale signs of a heat stroke, according to Torres. 

“It is a big problem now... Ive already received messages regarding dogs and heatstroke. One died,” she said.

PROVIDE FIRST AID FAST

To help regulate the temperature of the dog or cat, bring them to a cool shaded area, place cold wet towels on their armpits, neck, and between their limbs, and offer small amounts of cool water (but do not force them to drink), Torres explained. 

She, however, warned animal parents to be careful in administering first aid and to steer clear of ice water as it can “shock their system.” 

“It's OK for pets to drink ice water, but they should not be doused with it as first-aid,” she said.

According to Massapequa Pet Vet, a New York state-accredited veterinary medical facility, making the pet too cold can increase the risk of shock and hypothermia. Meanwhile, lowering their temperature too quickly may cause the blood vessels to constrict, hampering blood flow, and consequently preventing the animal from “actually being able to cool down.” 

Torres, however, emphasized owners should prioritize bringing their pets to a veterinary clinic or hospital.

“Do not attempt first aid if it will delay treatment. If possible, do first aid treatment on the way to the vet,” she said. 

VET CONSULT IS CRITICAL

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Even if the pet may seem better once their body temperature has normalized, Torres said it is crucial to see a veterinarian, as it is possible the animal has incurred internal damage.

“Even though you think your dog or cat has recovered from heatstroke, their internal organs could have been affected, such as their liver and kidneys,” she explained.

According to Massapequa Pet Vet, blood clot dysfunction or disorder, acute kidney failure, systemic inflammatory response system, liver disease, or cell breakdown, hydrocephalus (abnormal accumulation of fluid around the brain) are some of the complications that may develop. 

HEATSTROKE CAN BE PREVENTED
 
While heat stroke can rapidly turn fatal (or cause irreparable damage), it can easily be prevented with adequate care. 

Like humans, animals can get dehydrated when they spend too much time under the sun. Hence, it is important to supply them fresh cool water around the clock.

According to experts, exercising animals, especially outdoors on hot days, could spell danger. Torres instead suggested keeping pets indoors or in a shaded area.

Meanwhile, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also asked owners to keep their dog off hot asphalt since “a pooch’s body can heat up quickly, and [their] sensitive paw pads can burn.”

Torres also warned owners to never leave their four-legged companions in a car (regardless if you crack a window open).

Studies revealed a vehicle’s temperature can skyrocket to sweltering temperatures that can put pets at risk of serious illnesses or death, in just a matter of minutes.

Torres also suggested buying a digital thermometer so owners may monitor their pet’s rectal temperature. 

“38.5 to 39.5°C is normal temperature for dogs and cats,” she said. 

VULNERABLE POPULATION 

While animals can make a full recovery from heat stroke, experts ask fur parents to keep in mind, their pets are likely to relapse. 

“Once a dog [or cat] has suffered from heat stress or heatstroke, they're more prone to have it again,” she said.

Heatstroke can victimize even the healthiest animals. Torres, however, warned that some populations are more susceptible.

Snub nosed (brachycephalic) breeds, for example, are more likely to experience a heat stroke.

“Shih tzus, bulldogs (English, French, etc.), pugs, chow chows, Boston terriers, etc. are very prone,” Torres cautioned. 

ASPCA also urged owners to pay extra attention to elderly animals, puppies and kittens, and breeds with thick or dark colored coats, as they are more at risk. 

Under the Animal Welfare Act of 1998 or Republic Act No. 8485, neglecting to provide (or depriving) animals “adequate care, sustenance, or shelters” may be punished by imprisonment, a fine, or both depending on the discretion of the court.