Thursday, January 21, 2010

cats and cars -- what you need to know as a responsible cat caretaker

Your Car is an Oven!
You've heard of it, you knew it affected people, and you were even
vaguely aware that it could affect your cat. But how does it happen?
And most important, how can you help your pet avoid it? Heatstroke is
a deadly disease that can kill your beloved companion, even with
emergency treatment. The best way to avoid this terrible situation is
prevention, and it's all up to you.

Sun + humidity = heatstroke (and other factors that kill)
Everyone knows that the inside of a car on a hot summer's day can be
lethal. But good cats needs you to know more than that to keep him
safe in the deadly sun. Days above 90 degrees, especially with high
humidity, are inherently dangerous for your pet. Humidity interferes
with animals' ability to rid themselves of excess body heat. When we
overheat we sweat, and when the sweat dries it takes excess heat with
it. Our four-legged friends only perspire around their paws, which is
not enough to cool the body. To rid themselves of excess heat, animals
pant. Air moves through the nasal passages, which picks up excess heat
from the body. As it is expelled through the mouth, the extra heat
leaves along with it. Although this is a very efficient way to control
body heat, it is severely limited in areas of high humidity or when
the animal is in close quarters.

The shape of an animal's nasal passages can contribute to an animal's
tendency to overheat. Brachiocephalic (pug-nosed) dogs are more prone
to heatstroke because their nasal passages are smaller and it's more
difficult for them to circulate sufficient air for cooling. Overweight
dogs are also more prone to overheating because their extra layers of
fat act as insulation, which traps heat in their bodies and restricts
their breathing capabilities. Age can also be a factor in an animal's
tendency to overheat--very young animals may not have a fully
developed temperature regulating system, and older pets' organ systems
may not be functioning at 100 percent, leaving them prone to
heat-related damage.

Cracking the windows doesn't cut it
So where are the danger zones? The most obvious is your car: It can
become a death trap even on a mild sunny day--and can insidiously
raise the car's temperature to well above 120 degrees! Never, ever
leave your pet inside the car. If your pet can't come with you when
you get out of the car, leave him at home.

What are some other dangerous situations for your pets? Leaving
animals outdoors without shelter is just as dangerous as leaving them
inside a hot car. Be sure they are not left in a cage in the hot sun,
on a chain in the backyard, or outdoors in a run without sufficient
shade or air circulation.

Their lives are in your hands
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect your pet has
heatstroke (see "Signs of Heatstroke," below), you must act quickly
and calmly. Have someone call a veterinarian immediately. In the
meantime, lower the animal's body temperature by applying towels
soaked in cool water to the hairless areas of the body. Often the pet
will respond after only a few minutes of cooling, only to falter again
with his temperature soaring back up or falling to well below what is
normal. With this in mind, remember that it is imperative to get the
animal to a veterinarian immediately. Once your pet is in the
veterinarian's care, treatment may include further cooling techniques,
intravenous fluid therapy to counter shock, or medication to prevent
or reverse brain damage.

Even with emergency treatment, heatstroke can be fatal. The best cure
is prevention, and your pets are relying on you to keep them out of
harm's way. Summer does not have to be fraught with peril--with ample
precaution, both you and your furry friends can enjoy those long, hot,
dog-days of summer.

Signs of Heatstroke
Anxious expression
Refusal to obey commands
Warm, dry skin
High fever
Rapid heartbeat
Precautions to take if your pet lives outdoors
Ensure adequate shelter from sun/midday heat
Outdoor kennels should be well-ventilated and in the shade
Provide plenty of fresh water in a bowl that cannot be tipped over
Avoid excessive exercise on hot days
Talk with your local veterinarian to determine if your long-haired pet
needs a summer haircut

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