Once the warmer weather starts, we hear the same story. In some years, it’s seems like we are bombarded with it over and over again during the course of the summer. It starts out like this: A pet that was in the care of a professional groomer has died of heatstroke. In fact, I have yet to go a single year in my professional career without learning another pet has died due to heatstroke at a grooming facility.
Why didn’t these groomers notice that a pet in their care was in distress?
Especially after it was reported in the news yet again. There are several possible reasons that come to mind:
- The drying cages were out of the groomer’s field of vision. Out of sight, out of mind. Nobody thinks that a pet is going to die in his or her care. Many cage dryers are located in the back of the shop or even in a separate room.
- The groomer did not regularly check on pets while they were drying because they were out of his or her field of vision. Groomers are busy; we are working on a pet on the table, washing a dog, talking to a client, and so forth. Time can get away from us. What seems like five minutes can really be a half hour. And a pet that is just beginning to exhibit signs of heatstroke, a half-hour is too late.
- The groomer couldn’t see that the pet was in distress because this pet was out of his or her field of vision. If we don’t notice those immediate signs of heatstroke, it may be too late to reverse them.
Do we see the connection here?
There was no one consistently monitoring the pets while they were exposed to heat with little to no air circulation, as well as no or limited access to drinking water.
They were out of our field of vision.
Heatstroke begins when the pets’ body temperature surpasses 104 degrees. The factors that set the stage for heatstroke is when the temperature in their environment (cage dryer) becomes higher than their body temperature with little or no air circulation (cage), high humidity (heavy panting) and close quarters (cage).
The risk is much higher if groomers cover cages with towels to speed up drying. This is the exact same scenario when people leave their pets in a hot car to go shopping. But that’s another article.
Signs of heatstroke include lethargy, heavy breathing and panting, bright red gums and tongue, vomiting and diarrhea.
Heatstroke can cause shock, respiratory distress, kidney failure, and heart abnormalities among other complications. Damage can become irreversible once their body temperature reaches 106 degrees. Death follows. Let me repeat that: Death follows.
It is imperative that this pet receives medical attention before their body temperature temperature reaches 106 degrees. The only way to prevent heatstroke is with constant monitoring of the drying area. Minutes can make the difference between life, quality of life, and death.
Any pet is susceptible to heatstroke, but puppies and kittens, elderly pets, immune compromised, brachycephalic (dogs with pushed in faces), pregnant, and nursing dogs, as well as all cats are more susceptible to heatstroke.
What can a groomer do if heatstroke occurs?
- Remove the pet from the hot environment! Not just turn off the dryers. The ambient air inside the cage is still hot.
- Lower the body temperature by wetting with cool water. Put the pet in the tub and turn on lukewarm water. Don’t spray the pet as it may scare them. You can also wet towels and drape them over the pets’ body.
- Do not use cold water or ice water. It is counterproductive. It will shock the system and cause a thermal barrier. Cold water closes skin cells. This pet will be unable to cool itself.
- Contact a veterinarian for instructions.
- Transport to veterinarian as soon as safely possible after following any directions that were given by the veterinarian.
- Station an employee in the drying room. This employee can answer phones, return calls, or do some paperwork instead of just sitting there, but the pets will be his or her line of vision.
- Set an alarm for every five minutes and have someone check on each pet in the drying room.
- Redesign your grooming shop so that all pets are visible at all times while drying.
- Table dry all pets. This is not always feasible as some pets are fearful of high velocity dryers to the point of a seizure.
This is a preventable accident. Drying cages are one of our tools. We need to use them responsibly. If a pet dies while in our care, it damages more than your reputation. There is a family who now has to deal with the preventable loss of a beloved family member.