One morning as I was laying sod in my yard here in South Florida I was dripping sweat and it was barely 10 am. I came in twice to guzzle water. It got me thinking about diabetics in the summertime heat. Heck, if I can lose so much water while being perfectly healthy, imagine how much water a diabetic pet (who is already prone to dehydration) needs while exercising in the summer. I don’t expect you have Fluffy saddled with a plow for yard work, but playing fetch or wrestling with the neighbor pooch can bring on the same effect. Heat stroke can result from it being just so stinking hot outside, to over exertion, to a combination of both. Today’s newsletter is a reminder to use common sense regarding our pets this summer, particularly for our diabetic pets.

I’m a little surprised that I’ve seen fewer heat stroke patients here in the South Florida sun than I did when I worked in the cooler Pacific Northwest. Up in Oregon it seemed that we would see lots of cases early in the summer, when clients were tired of being all cooped up for the winter and opted for a hike or run in the park with Fluffy on one of the first nice days. Of course, it can happen at any time, especially with an exuberant young dog that has abundant energy, but seems more common early in the summer before pets and people acclimate to the warmer weather. I think we in the sunshine state learn to hide inside during our hot summer as those in colder climates do during their cold winter. Similarly, we Floridians rarely get sunburns, but I commonly see tourists burned to a crisp.

Heat stroke can occur in any pet, but the classic emergency presentations to the vet clinic that come to mind are the short-nosed breeds, particularly if they are pudgy. Other common usual suspects include the knucklehead goofball dogs such as retrievers who don’t know when to stop or older pets with laryngeal paralysis. Humans dissipate heat by sweating but dogs and cats only have sweat glands on their foot pads. Pets rely on panting to cool their bodies.

Heat stroke can be fatal! If your pet becomes overheated cool your pet with cool water if the situation allows then rush your pet to your local veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital. They will institute intravenous fluids, oxygen support, and continue cooling efforts. Even if you aren’t certain if your pet is affected by heat stroke, it is better to act aggressively than suffer consequences such as brain damage, kidney failure, circulatory collapse or coagulation disorders.

If you do take your pet for a walk in the heat or contemplate a greater distance than your common route, be sure to pack along lots of extra ice water. Take a moment to consider the walking surface. You are likely wearing shoes, whereas Fluffy could be stepping on hot concrete. Plan for a shady route and try to plan your exercise in the early morning or evening hours rather in the mid-day heat. Perhaps walk along a river or pond where your dog can cool off. If you are an exercise addict and feel you must continue to run long distances in the summertime, consider leaving Fluffy at home. Don’t even get me started about leaving pets in cars in the summer!

Today’s discussion focused mostly on dogs. Of course cats may also suffer from heat stroke, but I have a theory that cats are smarter than all of us. When it is hot outside they are in the cool air conditioning or quietly sunbathing. A dog would have been my eager helper while I was laying sod this morning, but my cats were too smart to volunteer for companionship while I toiled. Nope. They were chilling in the AC.


NOTE: Consult your veterinarian to confirm that my recommendations are applicable for the health needs of your pet.

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work and is the President and Founder of Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida.
Dr . Joi Sutton