Heatstroke in Dogs and other Summer Pet Emergencies

by Randy Wetzel, DVM

Heatstroke. Heatstroke in dogs is common in summertime. Dogs do not expel heat by sweating, as we do. Dogs expel heat by panting, which is a much less efficient method. Other factors putting some dogs at risk of heatstroke include obesity, heart or respiratory disease, and thick hair coat. Breeds that have short noses, such as Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs and others, tend to have a narrow airway that reduces the passage of air and thus ventilation.

Please remember that any dog can potentially suffer heat stroke, regardless of how short his/her hair coat or however fit he/she may be. Please remember, too, that even cloudy days can be hot. All pets should have access to plenty of water, excellent ventilation and a shady area throughout the day.

Signs of heat stroke in dogs include excessive panting, red gums or tongue, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and weakness. One or all of these symptoms may occur. If heatstroke is suspected, dogs should be bathed with room temperature water (not cold water), then immediately taken to your veterinarian. Excessive cooling is easy to do and can be dangerous.

Life threatening complications from heatstroke can occur as long as 12-24 hours from the initial incident. It is a common mistake for pet owners to not seek further care once their pet has been cooled down. Severe complications, such as a clotting disorder called Disseminated Intravenous Coagulopathy (DIC), can develop internally without any obvious signs to the owner. This is an often-fatal complication that can sometimes be avoided with proper veterinary care following the initial cooling.

Snakebites. Western North Carolina has two types of venomous snakes – copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. Like many conditions, snakebite can be mild or life threatening. The most common symptoms of snakebite include swelling, pain, redness and often oozing from the location of the bite. Symptoms can develop within minutes to hours, and may last several days.

The most effective treatment for snakebite is the use of antivenin, which is also the primary treatment for humans. Although many patients do not require the use of antivenin, determining beforehand which cases require it to avoid serious complications or even death can be difficult. It is no longer recommended to place tourniquets on limbs or attempt to lance and suck venom from a bite. These treatments are often more harmful than helpful.

If a venomous snake bites your pet, seek veterinary care immediately. Bites by non-venomous snakes do not develop swelling or notable pain and do not require medical care.

Insect stings. Like people, some dogs and cats can have severe reactions to insect stings. Many of our pets may have insect sensitivities that are unknown to us. Yellow jackets are of particular concern because they can sting multiple times, are aggressive, and often have nests in the ground.

Symptoms of severe insect bite may be less obvious than symptoms of snakebites. The symptoms are swelling, redness, hives, lethargy, pale gums, or vomiting. Swelling and redness may not necessarily occur in bites that could be life threatening.

If your pet has been stung by an insect and develops any of the above symptoms it is best to have him or her examined by a veterinarian.

Dr. Wetzel practices at R.E.A.C.H (Regional Emergency Animal Care Hospital) on Brevard Road. He and the entire staff hope the above tips will help your pets stay safe this summer.

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