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Panting paws: Keeping cool in fur coats

It's hot, really hot. Not something you would normally associate with Scandinavia - the countries that brought you hygge in the dark short days while the snowstorms rages outside - nonetheless that is what it is in Denmark right now. Most of us, students included, are running outside in practically nothing to soak up the few D-vitamins we can get.

However, someone who isn't enjoying the heat as much as we are, is our furry friends. As summer has come so suddenly it's important to remember some of the most common signs of overheating.

Hyperthermia is an elevation in body temperature above the normal range. For dogs and cats this is around 38-39 degrees Celsius. Anything above this range is abnormal, and 41 degrees is often when heat stroke, non-fever hyperthermia, will start to lead to multiple organ dysfunction. Heat strokes occurs when the body of the animal can't "get rid of" the heat due to excessive external heat.

Heat strokes occurs more often in dogs, and can affect any breed. Logically though, longhaired dogs are often more at risk. So is brachycephalic dogs (read more on those here: ), and older dogs are also more likely to suffer from non-fever hyperthermia.

The symptoms of non-fever hyperthermia includes panting, dehydration, reddened gums, rapid heart rate and in some extreme cases; cardiopulmonary arrest. Noticing the symptoms early is the key to a quick recovery.

Though not as common, cats can also suffer from non-fever hyperthermia and will often have similar symptoms, and the immediate care is the same for dogs and cats.

The first step is to try and lower the body temperature of the animal. In most cases this will mean moving it to an area with less sun, spraying the animal down with cold water or using evaporative cooling (isopropyl alcohol on foot pads, groin and under the forelegs).

Never use ice or very cold water as that will cause blood vessels close to the skin to contract, which will mean less heat can evaporate from the animal.

Often hospitalisation of the animal will be necessary, especially if it has experienced organ failure due to the heat. However, it's important to remember that when diagnosed early, most will recover from heat strokes.

Preventing heat strokes in all animals is extremely important when the days gets longer and the sun is stronger. Luckily a few simple measures will often be enough to ensure a healthy pet. The animal should always have access to clean and plenty of water, a cool place either inside or at least with shade and keep the animal inside on very hot days. Also, remember to never leave the animal in a confined car unattended, or anywhere else where they can't escape the heat. In 24-degree weather, the inside of the car can reach 50 degrees within 30 minutes - enough to kill small children and pets. Leaving the window open isn't enough when the weather is warm, so as a general rule, never leave a pet unattended in the car on a sunny day.

Some people wonder if shaving their animals, especially their dogs, will prevent them from getting too warm. However, as the fur keeps the dog warm in the winter, it's also the perfect insulator in the summer. As it gets warmer most dogs goes through a seasonal coat change; the summer coat provides insulation by keeping the heat away from the body. The fur also functions as protection against the suns UV-light, meaning that if you choose to shave your dog it can get sunburned just like we can. Therefore, save the shave!

The exceptions to this rule is cold climate dogs living in warmer climates, such as huskies. These might benefit from a shorter coat - this does not however mean shaving it completely short, always leave at least an inch of coat to offer sun protection.

Another good prevention technique is to, if possible, take the dog out early in the day and/or wait till the evening when the sun isn’t as high, to take your furry friends out for their walk; I know Anton definitely prefers the evenings.

In the end, looking after our pets in the sun, is as important as looking after ourselves in the hot weather, so a friendly reminder to all the two-legged ones: Remember the sunscreen! Together we can all keep cool in the sun.

If you want to read more about my life as a veterinary student, my travels with Worldwide vets or my failures as a football player (only happens once every decade) please follow me here. You're also always welcome to ask questions, make any comments, or if you just want to say hi!

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