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Articles by Dr. Tesluk

HEAT STROKE CAN BE FATAL
 

Dr. Stephen Tesluk, DVM

 

Bonnie Schaffer called the other day with an unusual request.

            “I was wondering if you could write me a letter describing the heat stroke in dogs, how it happens and the consequences of heat stroke.”

            Sure, I can do that, but why do you need it?” I asked.

            “Well, the other day it was really hot out – around 100 degrees – and I was walking down the street by my house and noticed a dog in a parked van.  The windows were rolled down just enough for the dog to stick its face out, but it was panting really hard and drooling.  I was really concerned that the dog was going to have heat stroke if it didn’t get out of the car.  I called the police to let the dog out, but 15 minutes later they still had not shown up.  So I walked over to the car, opened the door and took the dog home.  I called the owner’s phone number on the tag and was cooling the dog down when the police finally arrived.  About a minute later the owner walked up the street.”

            “You did the right thing,” I told her.  “Heat stroke occurs when an animal builds up too much heat for its cooling mechanisms to dissipate.  The body temperature of a dog goes from 102 degrees to over 105 degrees – sometimes as high as 109 degrees.  The excessive heat causes cell death and can lead to organ failure.  The temperature inside a parked car can reach 160 degrees, even with the windows rolled down partially.  The excessive panting and drooling you observed are early signs.  As the hear stroke progresses, weakness and shock set in, followed by respiratory distress, hemorrhagic vomiting and diarrhea, kidney failure, seizures, coma and death.  You might have saved that dog’s life – but why do you need a letter from me?”

            “The dog’s owner was very upset with me,” Bonnie replied.  “He claimed that he had only left the dog in the car for 20 minutes and that she was overheated because they had just come home from the park.  He made the police arrest me for unlawful entry into his van.”

            “Wow, so instead of thanking you for saving his dog, he had you arrested? I’m surprised that the police didn’t cite him for putting his dog at risk by leaving her in a parked car on a hot day after exercising her at the park.”

            I told Bonnie I would write the letter for her, and even testify on her behalf if the powers that be decide to waste time and money and take this before a judge.

            Pet owners need to be aware that heat stroke does not just happen to pets locked in cars.  Many owners enjoy regular outdoor exercise with their dogs during the summer.  Owners should avoid exercising their pets in the heat of the day for extended periods.

            Shade and water need to be provided to any dogs or cats that are housed outside during the day.  Old or overweight animals are particularly susceptible to heat stroke.

            Owners should not assume that their dogs will just stop and rest if they get too hot; many times heat stroke had already developed by the time clinical signs are observed.

            If owners do see their pets showing signs of hear stroke, they should attempt to cook the animal by dousing the hair coat with cool water and then get the pet to the veterinarian right away.  The degree and duration of overheating affect the prognosis, and despite treatment, some animals will die from hear stroke.

            And if I happen across a dog trapped in a hot car, I would just what Bonnie did; notify animal control or the police department, and if necessary get the dog out the car and cooled down.  It is a regrettable sign of our times that being a good Samaritan can result in legal hassles, but for the dog trapped in the car, the consequences of inaction could be far worse.




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