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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

How to protect your really good dog from really bad heat

By Soumya Karlamangla

When heat and humidity rise, humans can get heatstroke, a potentially fatal condition in which their body temperature rises beyond a healthy range.

So can their pets. In fact, experts say, animals can be more susceptible because it’s harder for them to cool off. (They don’t sweat like humans do.)

Gagandeep Kaur, a veterinary medicine professor at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, said that emergency clinics in her state saw hundreds of cases of pets with heatstroke last summer. “It’s not something that’s rare,” she said.

But it is preventable. Here’s what to know:

Be aware of risk factors. Dogs and cats are generally comfortable in the same temperatures as humans. But your pets are at higher risk for heatstroke if they are very old, very young, overweight, or have lung or heart disease.

Dogs with short snouts, such as bulldogs, pugs and Shih Tzus, are particularly vulnerable because they tend to have breathing problems.

Provide water and shade. Always.

Dogs are more at risk than cats. Cats are usually better about keeping themselves cool by limiting their movement when it’s hot, said Steve Epstein, chief of emergency services at the University of California, Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine.

In Epstein’s home in Davis, the air-conditioning doesn’t turn on until around 85 degrees, but he doesn’t worry about his cat becoming ill, he said.

Dogs, however, may chase after a squirrel or want to go on a walk even when it’s unsafe for them. Epstein said he recently treated a dog with heatstroke that had been racing around in a backyard when it was 90 degrees.

Think twice about walks. If you put your hand on the ground and it’s too hot to leave there, skip the walk, Epstein said. Dogs can unknowingly burn their paw pads on asphalt or concrete.

“If it’s uncomfortable for your hand then it’s probably uncomfortable for their feet,” he said. “They’re out on the walk, they’re like, ‘I love doing this,’ and often it’s not until the next day that we see the injury.”

Never leave your animal in a parked car. “Not even for a minute,” warns the Humane Society of the United States. When it’s 85 degrees outside, the temperature inside a car with the windows cracked can reach 102 degrees in 10 minutes and 120 degrees in 30, the organization warns.

Know the signs of heatstroke. In humans, early signs of heatstroke are dizziness and muscle cramps, which can be difficult to notice in pets. So owners often don’t realize pets are sick until they collapse, Epstein said.

Other signs in animals include heavy panting, glazed eyes, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst and vomiting.

Hose down an overheated pet. If you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke, hose it down as soon as possible, even before taking it to the vet, Epstein said.

Doing so limits the damage to overheated organs and can save the dog’s life.

“The sooner they get their temperature down, the better,” he said.

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