Extreme temperatures are not only dangerous to people but especially to dogs. Extreme heat or extreme cold can cause variations in body temperatures that are abnormal which leads to devastating effects on many parts of the body. Three main conditions that all dog owners need to be aware of are heatstroke (hyperthermia), frostbite, and hypothermia.
Hyperthermia: An Overview
Hyperthermia more commonly referred to as heatstroke or heat prostration is most prevalent during the summer months when external temperatures rise significantly above the normal range. Other factors associated with hyperthermia are high humidity, poor ventilation, water deprivation, excessive exercise, illness, fever, obesity, and age extremes. Basically heatstroke occurs when basic bodily function cannot keep the body's core temperature at a safe level.
Signs and Symptoms
A dog that is suffering from hyperthermia (or heatstroke) may show multiple signs:
- Reddening of the tongue
- Rapid heavy panting
- Thick sometimes sticky saliva
- Change in color of the gums (either more pale or bright red in color)
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
Extreme cases of heatstroke may result in the dog going into shock or a coma.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from hyperthermia the key is to lower the body temperature as quickly as possible. Wetting the pet, placing rubbing alcohol on the footpads, and placing a fan in front of the pet are helpful measures. If using water as a coolant it is important not to use extremely cold water as it may allow the body temperature to become too low. Other ways to combat hyperthermia are to bring the pet into an air-conditioned area (if available) and provide plenty of cool water for your pet to drink.
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Any pet is at risk to develop hyperthermia. However, precautions can be taken to avoid this serious problem. Providing shade or some sort of shelter is a basic step in prevention. Also keeping a fresh supply of water and restricting exercise during extreme heat is essential. If at all possible refrain from muzzling your dog since the muzzle can trap body heat instead of letting it out. Do not leave your pet in a parked car as temperatures quickly escalate inside of a confined area. If you can avoid placing your dog on surfaces that reflect the sun's rays such as asphalt, sand, or concrete. Finally, wetting your dog's coat or allowing him to immerse in cool water are also excellent methods to prevent hyperthermia. Remember though that complete drying should take place before night as your animal can get chilled. Also, if an animal stays moist bacterial skin infections can set in quickly.
Hypothermia: An Overview
Hypothermia is a condition that results from prolonged exposure to cold temperatures or from the body's inability to maintain its heat. Hypothermia is more of a threat to short-haired animals. They are more susceptible to this condition as well as animals that do not have shelter or a means to stay dry during cold weather. If one's body temperature becomes too low it is impossible to return to a normal body temperature range without treatment. Hypothermia can cause injury to tissues of the body because of decreased blood flow and oxygenation. The extent of the damage caused by hypothermia is relevant to how severe the hypothermia is. In extreme cases hypothermia is fatal.
Signs and Symptoms
Dogs that suffer from hypothermia may have a decreased heart rate, slower and more shallow breathing patterns, may seem lethargic, and shiver uncontrollably. In extreme situations hypothermia may lead to a coma.
Treatment of hypothermia is aimed at preventing further heat loss and rewarming the animal. Most importantly is to remember that the warming process needs to take place slowly. There are many different techniques one could use while rewarming:
- Removing the pet from the cold temperature and into a warmer environment
- Placing water bottles filled with warm water around the pet
- Exposing the pet to a heat source such as a hair dryer on the low setting
- Wrapping the pet in warm blankets
In some cases warmed IV fluids and extra oxygen may be necessary to relieve the hypothermia.
The simplest way to prevent hypothermia is to keep your pets warm. If they are kept outside for extended periods of time a kennel or some type of shelter is strongly recommended. Simply adding shredded newspaper, straw, or other material along the bottom of the sleeping area will help to insulate the pet as well.
Frostbite: An Overview
Similar to hypothermia frostbite occurs when an animal's body is not able to keep itself warm enough to maintain a normal temperature range. Specifically frostbite refers to the tissue damage resulting from exposure to cold. Frostbite most often occurs if a dog does not have shelter or if it is wet or injured. Frostbite is common in cats and in dogs. The most common areas of a pet's body to suffer from frostbite are the tips of the ears, the tail and sometimes even the feet.
Signs and Symptoms
Frostbite is not something that is immediately evident. In fact it can take up to 2 days before symptoms appear. Symptoms include swollen and painful tissue in the frostbitten area. Because frostbite interrupts healthy blood flow and impacts nerve supply the affected area will dry up and turn black in color usually within a week or so. Eventually the dead tissue will fall off.
Frostbite is treated by immersing the affected tissue in warm water. Never massage or rub the affected area because the tissue can be further damaged. Once the frostbitten tissue has completely thawed a protective bandage can be applied to help prevent further tissue destruction. It may take days to determine the extent of the tissue damage and if any tissue needs to be removed. Because of the seriousness of this condition veterinary attention is recommended and pain medication is warranted in most cases.
Again the importance of having warm shelter cannot be overstressed. If possible, use a towel to wipe off your pet's feet after being outside for any length of time. Snow trapped in the pads of the feet can help foster the beginning stages of frostbite.