Hot weather worse for pets with health conditions

Posted at 12:15 AM, Jul 28, 2013
and last updated 2014-07-11 11:40:01-04

Summer is a great time for pet owners to get outdoors for fun in the sun. Unfortunately, when the heat and humidity become intense, the risk of heat exhaustion also increases.

Because heat exhaustion can be fatal, it is important for pet owners to learn the warning signs and what to do when pets show these signs. It is equally important to learn about the health conditions that increase a pet’s risk of heat exhaustion.

Dogs and cats can’t perspire as efficiently as humans do. In order to cool off, they release heat by panting. They perspire minimally through their foot pads. Unfortunately, this method is less efficient than sweating; pets can overheat quickly on a warm day leading to heat stroke.

To prevent heat exhaustion, pets should always have access to shade and water.

Pets with certain body types have an increased risk for developing heat stroke. Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds like pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers, boxers and cat breeds like Persians and Himalayans have short, narrow nasal passages, making them more heat-intolerant than other breeds.

Pets with health conditions, which decrease efficiency of fresh air exchange through the lungs, also have decreased heat tolerance. Some of my patients with lung, throat, heart or other conditions have been diagnosed only because of their difficulty breathing on hot days.

If your pet has difficulty breathing or is heat intolerant, keep him cool, calm and well hydrated during hot weather. If your pet has been diagnosed with one of the following conditions, restrict his activity during the “dog days of summer”: heart disease; asthma or respiratory allergies; pneumonia or bronchitis; small nasal openings; tracheal collapse (pets with this condition sometimes make a honking cough or sound like a vacuum hose with a sock stuck in it); laryngeal paralysis.

Laryngeal paralysis occurs when muscles of the larynx or voice box do not work properly. A deep breath cannot be taken, creating anxiety and distress as a pet cannot get enough oxygen. A respiratory crisis can occur, creating heat stroke, collapse and even death.

Laryngeal paralysis does not come about suddenly. For most dogs there is a history of panting, tiring on walks, or loud breathing. The diagnosis can be made by a vet before the condition progresses to an emergency.

Dogs with laryngeal paralysis demonstrate some or all of the following signs: excess panting or exercise intolerance; bluish tongue and gums while panting; voice/bark change; loud breathing sounds, pronounced with heat and exercise.

The typical patient is an older, large-breed dog, with the most commonly affected breed being the Labrador retriever.

Some pets with laryngeal paralysis require surgery to prevent heat stroke and death. Many pets can be managed by keeping them indoors when temperatures rise.

If your pet has increased risk for heat stroke, or if he goes outdoors when the weather is hot and humid, be alert to the following signs: excessive panting; bright red tongue and gums; vomiting; bloody diarrhea; unsteadiness; collapse; seizures.

Heatstroke can quickly damage vital organs. If you suspect that your pet is suffering from heatstroke, cool him down by wetting with cool water. Do not use ice water or immerse a hot pet in cold water. Immediately take him to your veterinarian for treatment. Without prompt treatment, heat stroke can be fatal.

Pets will try their best to keep up with you, even when exhausted. Dogs, like people, can become overheated if they run in the midday sun. Retrievers will run until the point of heat stroke.

Running on concrete, asphalt or sand presents an additional problem since these surfaces can burn a pet’s pads.

I recommend exercising your pet in the morning or evening to avoid the possibility of overheating or pad burns. If you have to take your pet out during the day, make sure the ground isn’t too hot and take extra water.

Most people know they should not leave their pets unattended in a parked car when the weather is hot. What many do not realize is how quickly a car becomes dangerously hot. To be safe, never leave your pet in a parked car when the weather is warm.

During these hot summer months, protect your pet from heat exhaustion by ensuring he has access to shade and water at all times. If your pet shows any distress signs, even if temporary, have him checked by your vet, as signs of heat distress can indicate another disease process. Never leave pets in parked cars or tied outside in the direct sun. Remember, pets are more vulnerable to heat exhaustion than humans.

Hopefully, these safety tips will help keep your pets safe so you both can have a wonderful and fun summer.

Dr. Cynthia Maro is a veterinarian at the Ellwood Animal Hospital in Ellwood City and the Chippewa Animal Hospital in Chippewa Township. She writes a biweekly column on pet care and health issues. If you have a topic you’d like addressed, please email ellwoodvet