Dogs, like people, are warm-blooded creatures. This means that they can maintain a specific body temperature even if it gets much hotter or colder outside. In case the body cannot maintain the temperature it is termed as heat stroke and frostbite, whichever be the case.
While the normal body temperature for humans is 98°F, for dogs it is between 100 and 102°F. Humans regulate their temperature using their skin. For instance, when they feel hot they sweat and the evaporation of the sweat makes them feel cooler and brings the temperature down. But this skin-related cooling system is absent in dogs and cats. They use their lungs and tongues for this. The saliva on their tongue evaporates to help them cool down and the air entering their lungs gets regulated by the lungs.
| A panting Spaniel drinks cold water
||Dr Subir Bhattacharya inspects a German Shepherd puppy.
Pictures by Sudeshna Banerjee
Dogs and cats are disadvantaged as their skin, despite being the largest organ in their body, is unable to regulate their inner temperature. The lungs and tongue are much smaller and so cannot cool down fast enough and efficiently enough. So dogs and cats are much more susceptible to heat stroke than humans. This condition is called hyperthermia.
Pet birds are usually safe from heat strokes as they are caged and kept indoors. But even when they do suffer from one, they do not display any symptoms. They simply drop dead. However it is rare to see a pet bird getting heat stroke.
Cats and dogs are more susceptible as they like to run out of the house or play in the terrace. Cats are better off than dogs as they are always licking themselves. This saliva spreads all over their body and evaporates, thereby cooling them down. But canines are not in the habit of grooming themselves.
| Kittens kept in a crate away from the sun
Dogs with snub noses, such as pugs and boxers, are more susceptible than others. This is because their little noses can inhale less amount of air in every breath. With less air filling their lungs, their system cannot be cooled fast enough. They take longer to recover from heat strokes too.
Also, dogs whose coats are dark, such as German Shepherd Dogs and Dobermans, could get heat strokes easily as their skin absorbs more heat. Light-coloured dogs like the Spitz may be better off, but they too need precautions.
The symptoms of heat stroke, among dogs and cats, are profuse panting, followed by fainting and bloody diarrhoea. All of these symptoms could happen in as little as an hour. If you notice your pet’s condition worsening, call a vet immediately. Chances are that by now he will be in such a state that he won’t be able to eat or drink anything even if you offer him. Intravenous injections will need to be administered.
Dos and don’ts
● Bathe or sponge your dog every day, preferably in the morning.
● Keep the door shut or make barricades so he does not escape out of the house. Do not let him get exposed to the sun. Never keep him tied in the terrace or outside.
● If your dog has a kennel, make a false ceiling above it to reduce the heat.
● Offer him cold drinking water. Don’t worry about him catching a cold.
● If you have an air-conditioner in the house, allow him to stay in the AC room. He is unlikely to catch a chill as the AC’s temperature is usually between 18 and 24°C. This is comfortable for him.
● You do not have to switch the AC on at all times. Take wet cloth or gunny bags and hang them from the top of doors or windows. This way the air entering the room will get cooler.
● Avoid fat-rich food in your pet’s diet and give them lots of water. Dehydration is associated with heat stroke and so it important not to let the volume of water in their body diminish.
● Do not offer your pets the Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) available for humans. Do not offer them sugar-salt water either. This is because excess salt affects animals adversely. For parched birds flying in your neighbourhood, you may keep a bowl of glucose water in your balcony. Do not add salt to it.
● Mongrels usually find a shady shelter for themselves to avoid the sun, but if you suddenly find one of them missing in this weather chances are they have succumbed. Help them find a shady hideout and in case you feed them, make sure their food is watery. Offer them plain water too.
● Keep basic medicines, such as glucose and paracetamol at home and keep your vet’s phone number handy.