I was horrified to get a call from a fellow grooming blogger that another precious pet had perished at the groomer's as a result of overheating from a heated cage dryer. How many of these incidents have to happen before this industry wakes up? Heat is deadly. Period. Heat exhaustion can be fatal. Dogs that survive can be permanently damaged with kidney failure, brain damage, and never be the same. Death by heat does not just happen in hot cars, it can happen in the grooming salon, it could happen TO YOU!
In the wake of another story of a pet death occurring in a grooming salon, it is of vital importance that all professional groomers review our operations and become acutely aware of the possibility of heat stress and heat exhaustion in ANY grooming environment.
It is common following a fatal accident at the groomers that other professionals immediately distance themselves from the unfortunate event. In other words, rather than thinking "There for the grace of God go I", the groomers say, "THAT could never happen to me." How quickly we play the Blame Game, naming the person who left the puppy in the heated cage, the shop where it occurred (we have a 'salon', THEY have a 'shop'), the use of a heated dryer, the failure to use a timer on the dryer, the manufacturer for selling a dryer that gets too hot and does not shut off automatically when the temperature reaches a certain point. Some might raise the question that the dog may have had a health problem, or a predisposition to heat stroke. SOMEONE (ELSE) must be held responsible!
Accidents happen when a number of factors line up. For example:
- A self-absorbed bather steps outside for an extended smoke break.
- A dog is left unattended in a cage with a heated dryer going.
- The dryer does not have a automatic timer or shut off.
- There is tension between the bathing staff and management, and management is letting them "cool off", and is not providing supervision to the back room.
- No procedures for use of cage dryers or signs of heat exhaustion are posted.
- It is a high volume, high stress operation and it is easy for 1/2 an hour to slip by.
- Groomers are focused on what's happening on their tables, not what's happening in cages.
- It's hot in the grooming environment to start with and everyone is just dealing with it.
- Time is of the essence so the dryer is cranked up on high.
- Temporary summer help does not necessarily know the signs of heat exhaustion in the pet, or how fast it can happen.
Any one or two of these factors could occur without a fatality resulting. But should several line up, you have a recipe for disaster. In order to prevent fatalities and illnesses related to heat stress at our jobs, we have to constantly be aware of ALL the factors ALL the time.
Here is something else that we should all look at:
The canine SPECIES is predisposed to heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion occurs when the ambient (surrounding) temperature and humidity are above tolerable levels and the animal's body begins to acquire heat from the environment faster than it can dissipate that heat. In dogs and cats that have very few sweat glands to begin with the only means of dissipating excess body heat is via panting. This movement of air over the moist tongue and airway surfaces increases evaporative cooling (unless the ambient humidity is 100 percent). Unfortunately, panting is a rather inefficient means of dissipating body heat and actually generates some heat due to the muscle activity involved. Keep in mind that as an animal is confined to a closed space the expired air, which is at 100 percent humidity and 102 degrees, will eventually increase the ambient humidity and temperature of the animal's space.
Heat exhaustion is not just a function of temperature. The factors that may interact to create heat stress and can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke are: Room air temperature, external heat source, humidity, confinement, ventilation and air circulation, animal's ability to breathe and pant. Availability of drinking water is another factor. Humidity level is a big factor in how much evaporation can occur. Evaporation affects not only the hair drying, but also the dog/cat's ability to dissipate the heat. When the ambient humidity reaches 100%, the panting-cooling mechanism is worthless. Since the dog is exhaling 100% humid air, the size and structure of the confined space is another important variable. Also, the dog is exhaling hot air, 102 degrees, so an unventilated small box can become deadly at a very low external heat, even as low as 85 degrees. The practice of covering a cage with a dryer on it can be deadly, even if the dryer heat is less than 100 degrees, because the dog itself is heating and humidifying the air inside.
Even without an external heat source, a covered cage can become an oven, especially if there is an excitable dog in there, or an animal with compromised cooling ability. Having water available can help, as water on the tongue cools down the air the dog is inhaling and helps to regulate the internal temperature.
DOGS AT GREATEST RISK. There are certain dogs or certain conditions that make heat exhaustion more of a concern:
- Dogs with short noses, pushed in faces, or poor breathing mechanisms. Shih Tzu, pugs, pekingese, boxers, bulldogs, are all at high risk of rapid heat exhaustion. Shar Pei has also been identified. Don't forget persian cats.
- Dogs with collapsed trachea or respiratory problems. Any dog that is wheezing, coughing, breathing heavily or shallow breathing.
- Muzzled dogs - Dogs wearing muzzles cannot breathe or pant efficiently on warm days. Heat strokes have been reported in dogs standing under a grooming parlor dryer while muzzled.
- Fat dogs.
- Very old dogs.
- Very young dogs.
- Dogs with heart difficulties.
- Dogs with hypothyroidism or Cushings Disease that have trouble with internal temperature regulation.
- Dogs on certain medications, especially diuretics.
- Excessively excitable dogs or dogs who are distressed from separation or kennel anxiety. According to Joy Butler, a writer for Suite 101, "Some dogs can have a heat stroke in an air conditioned room if they become overexcited and active."
- Dogs that arrive overheated, from a ride in a hot car, or having been heavily exercised.
- Dogs that have previously experienced heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Another important factoid that is worthy of repeating: The dog's breath being exhaled is 102 degrees and 100 percent humidity. Put that dog in a poorly ventilated crate, and there could be overheating without the presence of an external heat source, especially if the room hair is warm and humid. Add another couple of factors, such as no one watching dogs in crates, or a dog with a breathing problem to start with and again you have a line-up that could lead to an accident. One misconception that we must dispel is that a dog that is overheating is going to get frantic and somehow signal to us that it's dying. NOT SO! A dog is not necessarily going to try to claw its way out of a hot cage, nor is it always able to bark if it is busy hyperventilating. The dog can just sit or lay there and stare out and be overcome.
SIGNS OF HEAT EXHAUSTION
- Rapid, frantic panting
- Wide eyes, fixed stare
- Not responsive, "out of it".
- Thick saliva
- Bright red tongue, or blue-grey tongue and gums
- Vomiting or Diarrhea
- Extreme thirst
- Staggering, inability to stand
- Collapse or Coma
WHAT TO DO. Not all of these symptoms need to be present. If a dog is panting, has a staring expression, is unresponsive and has a cherry red tongue, you've got a problem. If a dog has vomiting and diarrhea and is unable to stand, you've got a problem. What will tell you if you have heat stroke is obtaining a rectal temperature. Every first aid kit should contain a rectal thermometer. If the pet's temperature is over 104 degrees, you've got an emergency. The dog should be cooled and transported to the nearest vet immediately. If the temperature is 106 or hovering around 106, you have a life-threatening situation. You should take measures to rapidly reduce the temperature. Each minute at that temperature can mean brain damage and irreversible damage to internal organs. Cool the dog. Placing wet towels on the dog and putting him under a fan is one way. Wetting the groin area also can help. When the temperature cools to 104 or 103, stop cooling efforts or you may cause a too rapid loss of temperature.
- Monitor room temperature and humidity, and temperature inside cages, especially if there is a heated cage dryer in use. Digital thermometers are available that are the size of credit cards and can clip to the inside of kennels.
- Use timers when using heat-producing dryers, especially cage dryers. With the right line-up of factors, fatal heat stroke can happen in 15 minutes. This is why the 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off for cool down, is a recommended procedure. Some groomers use backup timers in case the timer on the dryer fails or you don't hear it.
- Do not muzzle dogs in heated cage dryers or on tables with hot air dryers.
- Clearly establish that pet safety is the responsibility of every employee.
- Post the signs of heat exhaustion in a conspicuous place.
- Consider using fans. Many groomers have moved away from using heated cage dryers and use fans around wire cages or ambient air dryers like the Sahara Turbo.
- Improve room air circulation - adding exhaust ventilation to the bathing room, or placing fans around your premises in such a way that air is constantly moving helps make cooler air available to your pet guests.
- Consider investing in a dehumidifier. With dogs exhaling 100% humidity, and high velocity dryers forcing water off dogs and into the air, the chances are your drying room could have high enough humidity level that it could be adding to the risk of heat stress. This possibility is greatly increased if you are using swamp cooling rather than air conditioning or work in an area of high humidity. Not only will this investment make your premises safer for animal guests and employees, the dehumidifying will reduce drying times.
- Have water available for your guests. A really nice gesture is to have a bowl of water or a recirculating fountain system near the front door of your establishment. Dogs can cool off after their trip, and owners can see that you are aware and care. In the back, dogs at risk or dogs having an extended stay (over three hours) should be offered water. Hanging water bowls for cages is a good summertime practice.
- Create a cooling cage. A wire crate with fans around it and a cooling pad is an option for those guests who easily overheat.
CONCLUSION It is important to recognize that heat stress and the potential for heat exhaustion and fatal heat stroke are a concern for all pet grooming operations. Although heated cage dryers and solid wall cages are a formula for potential problems, it is not the drying method nor the equipment that is to blame for pet deaths. Accidents happen when heat is not used responsibly, and the danger of heat and animals is not appreciated. All employees need to be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion and be able to identify animals at higher risk. Risk factors need to be determined by asking the right questions of the owner.
Whether or not a groomer continues to use heat producing cage dryers is a professional choice. These dryers have been around for decades and are used responsibly in hundreds, maybe thousands of grooming establishments each day without incident. Automobiles are involved in fatal accidents; is that a reason to stop driving? No. We try to make cars safer. Cage dryers can be made safer by the installation of internal timers, heat sensors and automatic shut off, and such. Groomers who wish to continue using heated cage dryers need to start asking for safety features, and appreciating that saving one little life is far more important than having a dryer without an annoying timer that shuts it off before the dog is dry. Even groomers who refuse to use heated dryers are not immune to the problems of heat stress, however. Given the right line-up of factors - a hot grooming room, humidity that has accumulated during hours of high velocity drying, an animal with a compromised respiratory system or a heart condition, and whammo - IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU! What makes the matter so important is that the internal effects of heat stroke can be irreversible and if a dog survives, it can be messed up for life or live a considerably shorter time. In the summer months it is important that all groomers raise their alert level to the possibility of an overheating incident happening.
©BBird, Birdzeye Press, 2014. Do not use this article or portions thereof without expressed permission of the author. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org This article was originally posted in 2006 as "Heat Stress in the Grooming Salon".