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Vet clinics see heat stroke and deaths among B.C. pets during soaring temperatures

Vancouver -

When registered veterinary technician Kaneycia Bush-McLean finished her overnight shift Saturday night at the Animal Emergency Clinic of the Fraser Valley in Langley, she felt compelled to share a message online about some of the devastating heat-related cases her clinic had seen.

“It was just heartbreaking,” she said. “People are either coming home or waking up to their pets already having passed away, despite all their best efforts.”

According to her post, the tragic toll on June 26 included six rabbits and three dogs, with other pets having to be euthanized due to their severe condition.

“We’re seeing a significant increase in patients who are suffering from heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” she said, and added while it’s not entirely uncommon in the summer months, it usually happens when animals are playing outside and get too hot, or in cases when pets are left in cars. “The patients that we’re actually seeing are just in their yards, in their homes, and unable to cope with this exceptional heat level.”

Bush-McLean’s online message went on to warn pet owners to keep animals indoors and cool, and to seek help right away if things take a turn.

“I’m getting so many people saying it was a real wake up call for them,” she said, and added on her next shift, she noticed more pets being brought in earlier, before symptoms became too severe. “This is not the time to monitor at home. This is not the time to wait it out.”

Bush-McLean said people should watch for signs of overheating, such as panting and drooling, and check their pet’s temperature if they can.

In more serious cases, Bush-McLean said symptoms can include restlessness and disorientation.

“They may stagger, like they can’t walk steady,” she said. “Their gum colour may change from the nice, normal bubble-gummy pink to a dark brick-like red.”

Pets in the more advanced state may also experience vomiting and diarrhea, and if things get even worse, seizures or collapse.

Bush-McLean recommended cooling methods using towels wet with tepid water, rather than ice-cold, to drape over a pet and then be replaced frequently. She said a kiddie pool can also help for dogs, or a wet towel kept in the fridge or freezer to apply when needed. She also suggested taking pets to a cooler place that’s air-conditioned, if possible.

Veterinarian Carsten Bandt with Canada West Veterinary Specialists and Critical Care Hospital in Vancouver said his clinic has also been treating heat stroke cases, beginning on Friday. Some animals have not survived.

“The problem with dogs and also cats is they don’t sweat like we do, so they can’t really regulate body temperature as well,” he said. “The only thing that they can do is pant.”

Bandt said even excessive panting from being hot for too long can create problems for some dogs, particularly those with underlying airway issues.

“The first thing you will probably notice is the animals are not as energetic as they normally are,” he said. “And the next thing you will see if they will develop some degree of panting, and if that continues, depending on the breed, they might just run into problems on the panting, even.”

He said when an animal moves past overheating into heat stroke, then more severe clinical signs are seen, like seizures or fainting.

He recommended using water to wet a pet’s fur, as the evaporation will help with cooling.

“The problem with cats is it really stresses them out if they get wet, so there’s always a risk benefit ratio,” he said. “Maybe just mist them a little bit, and then go ahead and put a fan in front of them. That helps, too.”

He said people can also fill bottles with cool water or ice for animals to access, or use a cooling mat. He noted the effectiveness of a damp towel may depend on the thickness of an animals fur, because if the wetness doesn’t reach the skin it may not help with cooling, despite preventing overheating.

“Cooling them down with water directly is much more efficient,” he said.

Bandt said it’s also important for pets to avoid strenuous activity or exercise in the hottest part of the day.

“The best thing is always to prevent,” he said. “So if you have a patient who is older, or one of these large breed dogs with these upper airway problems already, a small breed dog with an occasional cough, or a patient with underlying heart disease...these are the cases who are really the ones who will run into trouble. So keep them as cool as possible and try to prevent any exercise.” Top Stories

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