The first symptoms of an impending coma are mental depression, later confusion, followed by a stupor and then a loss of consciousness. Of course, if a mechanical trauma (eg, car accident or a blow to the head) is involved, then the sequence which I have just described does not follow that some pathway. There is no mental depression/confusion and stupor. The effect of the hit to the head progresses immediately to the state of unconsciousness.

Of course, a number of ailments can lead to a coma. Hypoglycaemia (too little sugar in the blood) is a classic example of a metabolic disorder resulting in a coma. Similarly, any encephalitis (inflammatory process in the brain) condition, irrespective of the cause, can produce a comatose condition. As is the case with humans, organ failure (eg, kidneys, liver, heart, lungs) can have a coma as a consequence. Usually, in these cases, the coma happens not too long before death occurs.

High fevers or a heat stroke could also lead to a situation in which the animal falls into a coma. Every effort will therefore have to be made to reduce the fever, because if the fever/heat stroke condition continues, serious brain damage can result. I recall once having a patient (monkey) who had been brought in a comatose condition because of severe heat stress. The poor animal had been left in a cage during the early morning hours when the sun had not yet fully risen in the east. By the time the sun was in all its glory by mid-morning and noon-time, ‘Jacko‘ was skrieking for help. The sun’s rays were merciless; by one o’clock he was in a coma. Some injections and ice packs slowly brought him around, and ‘Jacko‘ is still alive today. We don’t have conditions in Guyana where a severe reduction of the body temperature (chilling) occurs. In the cold climates, when a prolonged chilling takes place, a coma can be the sequel. The animal’s temperature has to be elevated quickly.

Another cause associated with coma is reflected in the practice of many Guyanese of transporting a dog in the trunk of the car. The carbon monoxide fumes from the exhaust can seep into the trunk, displacing the oxygen. Carbon monoxide has a greater affinity to the blood cells than oxygen. As a result, the blood going to the brain has more carbon monoxide than oxygen and the brain (nerve) cells get starved of oxygen. This can place the animal in a coma after throwing a fit and collapsing.

There are many comatose conditions, in which there can be found no known (recognizable) cause. In such cases, I think of snake bite, some other toxic (poisonous) encounter like contact with monocrotophos, turpentine, Traitox, etc.

How does one go about ‘treating‘ a comatose/unconscious patient? Firstly, try to ascertain, if the animal is at least a bit conscious, reacting in some small way to stimuli. Secondly, ensure that dog is placed on an incline, with its head pointed downwards. This is to safeguard against the dog ‘swallowing’ its own tongue (risk of suffocation) or for that matter, inhaling any regurgitated food or, slime. Pull out the tongue and clear away any secretions that might be accumulating in the mouth. Take him to the vet at once. And, as related above, if the comatose condition has resulted from heat overload, then attempts to bring down the body temperature must be implemented (remember the ‘ice-pack‘ solution).
Enough for today.

Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals.  Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.