A Beautiful Day Can Be Deadly
Wednesday - July 15, 2009
Going to veterinary school was a great experience. I traveled to the cold tundra known as Minnesota for my education. My classmates and I considered ourselves the frozen chosen and, boy, did we freeze.
Being that I grew up in Hawaii, I often wonder how I survived the sub-zero temperatures. At times, I felt like a spicy taco in an ice cream factory (strange analogy, I know). The cold did have its benefits, as it forced me to stay in my cozy apartment and study.
Upon returning to Hawaii, I couldn’t help but notice the heat. Although I have not verified the weather trends over the past 20 years, the thermometer readings have got to be going up.
Do I believe in global warming? You bet your favorite tank top I do.
Being a veterinarian, hot weather concerns me a great deal. As temperatures rise, certain dangers emerge. Dehydration and heat stroke head the list of emergencies that may rush through our doors. The species highest at risk are dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas. The aforementioned small critters are comfortable in temperatures below 80 degrees F, and humidity well below those found in Hawaii. Dogs are more resilient to heat, but are subjected to activities like hiking and family days at the beach, which lead to overheating and the physiologic emergency known as heat stroke/stress.
The following story is not for the faint of heart. The names and furry faces may have been changed to protect the innocent. I know, I know, a bit melodramatic, but veterinary medicine can be quite exciting.
Kona, a 6-year-old male chocolate Labrador, rushed into our hospital after collapsing during a three-mile hike on a hot summer’s day. The owner said he often took Kona on this exact same trail, but this time something was different. Kona didn’t have the usual lilt in his gait. After one hour of sidestepping bushes and climbing small boulders, Kona’s energy started to deteriorate drastically, and soon his owner was carrying him down the path. It amazes me how the concern for a loved one gives people the strength and stamina to perform truly difficult tasks. Kona weighed 75 pounds, and his owner carried him the remaining two miles down the trail - astounding, to say the least.
Arriving at our offices, Kona labored through each breath and discharged a foul-smelling, bloody diarrhea. His temperature soared to 105.2 degrees F, and his prognosis was grave. His owners wanted to do whatever it took to save their furry family member.
Three days and four plasma transfusions later, Kona was wagging his tail again.
Whew, that was a close one.
Heat and humidity can kill. What everyone needs to understand is that animals are very different than us.
When we experience excruciating waves of heat, we simply turn on the air conditioner and pour ourselves a glass of ice-cold guava juice. Unfortunately, our little furry, feathered or scaled friends are victims of an environment that we often create. A long hike on a hot and humid afternoon is not a good idea. Granted, everyone likes to walk on the wild side once in awhile, just make sure it’s on a cool day in paradise.
How hot is too hot? Add the temperature and humidity together and if you get 150 then you need to be cautious. Example 85 degrees F + 65 percent humidity = 150.
If you suspect your pet is experiencing heat stress/stroke, gradually cool their body with tap water or water soaked towels. Do not use ice or chilled water, as drastic changes in temperature also can cause problems. Offer your pet water to drink and contact your veterinarian for medical attention.
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