Many people don’t begin to worry about heat safety for their furry loved ones until summer strikes in full force. However, pets can be affected by heat exhaustion or heat stroke when temperatures are only in the 70s, especially if left in a car on a sunny day. According to a study in the journal Pediatrics, 80% of the temperature increase in vehicles occurs during the first 30 minutes, and the internal vehicle temperature can reach 117 degrees in 60 minutes, despite a balmy 72-degree ambient temperature.

Excessive heat without appropriate cooling can lead to serious, and potentially fatal, conditions, such as heat stroke and cardiac arrest, in your pet. In Meatball the English bulldog’s case, he and his owners learned this lesson the hard way. Let’s read Meatball’s story, and learn from his mistakes, to prevent your own pet from suffering from heat stroke.

Meatball’s day at the park

One fine early summer day, Meatball the English bulldog and his family headed to Burr Pond State Park to soak up some sun, take a long hike, and enjoy a picnic, since it was too early in the season for swimming. Despite his appearance, which was much like his namesake, Meatball actually enjoyed exercise, and was excited to race his family up and down the trails. 

An overcooked Meatball

After an hour of romping around the park, Meatball was exhausted. Plopping down on the blanket in the sun, Meatball huffed and puffed, struggling to relax and cool off. But, as a bulldog, his flat face and elongated soft palate worked against him, limiting his ability to pant and dissipate heat. Unable to properly cool himself, and still lying in the scorching sun, Meatball began to drool and pant excessively. He staggered to his feet, to find some shade, only to collapse. Meatball’s family realized he was in serious trouble, and called our team at Burlington Veterinary Center for help.

Emergency cooling measures for Meatball

Since the water at Burr Pond State Park was still too frigid to safely cool off Meatball, we advised against placing him in the pond, and recommended putting him in the car, in front of an air conditioning vent going full blast, and wiping him down with damp towels soaked in cool water, as they rushed to our hospital. We also cautioned against wrapping Meatball in a wet towel, as that would only trap the evaporating heat.

When Meatball arrived, we hurried to provide oxygen support, since brachycephalic breeds do not oxygenate well in the best of times. While we administered flow-by oxygen, we ran blood work to check Meatball’s electrolytes and clotting factors, and placed an intravenous (IV) catheter to give IV fluids. 

Fortunately for Meatball, his family had responded rapidly enough to minimize organ damage. Pets who cannot cool down quickly enough can suffer from liver and kidney damage, decreased blood platelets and an inability to clot, and heart failure. 

We hospitalized Meatball overnight, and he looked much better the next morning. We retested his blood work, and found improved values. We released him to his family, with strict instructions to closely monitor him to prevent more heat stroke episodes, as he likely will succumb to the heat again. 

Tips on keeping your pet safe in the heat

Remembering that a situation can rapidly become too hot for your pet is key to heat safety. Temperatures in the low 70s can pose a threat to your furry friend’s health, so you must also practice heat safety measures in late spring and early summer. To avoid putting your pet in a situation like Meatball’s, follow these heat safety tips:

  • Exercise your pet inside only if the temperature or humidity is high, or avoid the heat of the day by going for a walk early in the morning, or late in the evening.
  • Never leave your pet in a parked car, whether or not the air conditioning is on. A pet can hit the knobs and turn the air off, or turn the car off. Leave your companion at home with a tasty treat while you run errands.
  • Limit your pet’s playtime outdoors if they don’t limit themselves. Dogs who enjoy fetch, and working or sporting dogs, occasionally don’t know when to stop, and must be forced to relax in a cool, shady spot.
  • Groom your pet regularly to remove dead, matted fur, to aid in thermoregulation.
  • Provide plenty of cool, clean water at all times.
  • If your pet is outdoors for any length of time, ensure there is plenty of shade, ventilation, and cool water.
  • Know the warning signs of overheating, and impending heat stroke, such as excessive panting, vomiting, diarrhea, bright red gums, glazed eyes, excessive drooling, dizziness, and slowed response.
  • Reduce your pet’s temperature appropriately with cool water and a fan. Avoid wrapping your pet in wet towels, since they trap heat, and stay away from ice packs or frigid water, as the cold causes the core body temperature to rise. 

For more information about how to prevent your pet from suffering with heat stroke, contact us