For humans, the summer heat can be a wonderful thing. Many of us like to relax in the sun, sipping a cold drink or laying by the pool. But for our pets, the summer heat doesn’t offer the same thing. In fact, it’s far more dangerous.
Heat stroke in dogs and cats is a real issue. Our animals need a little extra care and attention in the summer, and they rely on us to keep them cool.
Do you know how to spot the signs of heat stroke in your pet, or what to do if you do see them? And, how can you prevent heat stroke in the first place?
What is Heat Stroke in Dogs and Cats?
Heat stroke is the common name for hyperthermia, or elevated body temperature. When your animal’s body temperature gets above 103°F (39.4°C) it’s considered abnormal, and body temperatures above 106°F (41°F) are typically associated with heat stroke.
Once the body reaches 107°F to 109°F (41.2°C to 42.7°C), the organs start to fail. This is why it’s so important to avoid heat stroke in dogs and cats, and to be able to spot the signs as soon as they occur.
The most common cause of heat stroke is leaving a pet in a hot car, being left outside on a hot day without access to shade or water, or just playing and running around a lot in the sun. Their body temperature in these situations can elevate very rapidly, often within minutes.
For humans, in these situations, we’d just sweat a lot. Unfortunately, animals can’t control their body temperature by sweating because they only have a few sweat glands located in their footpads. Their primary way of regulating body temperature is by panting – and that just isn’t as effective.
Because of this, pets with restricted airways, such as brachycephalic breeds (flat-faced dogs like pugs, boxers, and bulldogs and short-nosed cats) are at greater risk. Dogs who are muzzled for any reason can be at greater risk since their ability to pant is restricted by the muzzle.
Signs of Heat Stroke
To avoid heat stroke in dogs and cats, it’s important to be able to spot the signs. These are some of the things you’ll notice when your pet is too hot:
- Drooling, salivating
- Lethargy, weakness
- Agitation, restlessness
- Very red or pale gums and a right red tongue
- Increased heart rate
- Breathing distress
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea (possibly with blood)
- Dizziness, staggering
- Muscle tremors
- Little to no urine production
If you notice any of these signs, what should you do?
Spot the Signs? Next Steps
Heat stroke is serious! If you notice these signs, you should head to the vet as soon as possible. Safe, controlled reduction of body temperature is a priority.
The goal is to try and bring down your pet’s body temp – but you can’t do that too quickly or you could shock the system.
Important: DO NOT place anything (including wet towels) on your pet – this traps the heat!
- Spray tepid/cool water (NOT COLD) onto the animal’s fur and skin – you don’t want to use ice-cold water or ice or that can make things worse
- Give them access to tepid/cool water to drink, but don’t let them overdo it
- Place a fan near your pet and have it going continuously over their body
- Wet down the area around your pet
- On the way to the vet, make sure you have your air conditioning running, or your windows down, to lower the temperature in your car.
Thankfully, deaths in pets due to heat stroke are not common. Your veterinarian will likely treat your pet’s heat stroke with IV fluids, oxygen, and a blood test to determine if organ damage has occurred. Severe cases may require hospitalization for a few days.
How to Prevent Heat Stroke in Dogs and Cats
To prevent heat stroke in dogs and cats, there are some simple steps you can take.
On hot days, make sure you do the following:
- Skip those long walks in the afternoon sun. Take walks in the morning or evening when it’s cool outside. And check the pavement. It’s it’s too hot to keep your hand on it, it’s too hot for paw pads.
- If your pet is outside, make sure that they have access to shade. A dog house isn’t enough – they often have poor ventilation and trap the heat inside.
- Keep your pet indoors in the air conditioning or in an area with a fan going and the curtains drawn.
- Make sure your pet has access to cold water and refresh the bowl throughout the day.
- Put a cloth over rabbit and guinea pig cages, without covering it all the way – you want to allow for air circulation. A fan in the area is good also.
- If you’re outside, put the sprinkler on or fill a kiddy pool so they can splash around. You can also spray smaller pets with a spray bottle.
- Always keep an eye on your pet. Watch for signs that your pet is getting overheated and take them inside.
Don’t let the summer heat get your pet down. Keep them cool all summer long.
The Veterinarious team is made up of pet owners, pet lovers, and pet experts from around the globe! We’ve banded together to create a community of like-minded pet people to give you the latest research and health advice for your beloved beast!