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How to Recognize and Prevent Heatstroke in Your Pet

By August 11, 2021 September 11th, 2022 No Comments

When it’s hot outside, our pets are at higher risk for heatstroke, which is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. Even in London and River Bend, it gets hot enough during the summer to put dogs and cats at risk for heatstroke.

So what causes this medical emergency in pets, and more important, how can you prevent heatstroke in your cat or dog?

Heatstroke and Overheating in Pets

Like people, pets can overheat. Unlike us, though, dogs and cats don’t cool off primarily through sweating. When they get hot, they pant, but panting isn’t always enough to bring down their body temperature. This puts our pets at increased risk for:

  • Heat exhaustion—A slight elevation in body temperature that can lead to heatstroke if not reversed.
  • Heatstroke—A dangerous condition in which a pet’s core body temperature becomes dangerously elevated and the pet can’t lower it on their own. During heatstroke, the brain, liver, kidneys, and other organs may not receive enough blood flow and can fail.

Normal body temperature for dog and cats is around 38-39 degrees Celsius. Once their temperature reaches about 40 degrees, it’s considered abnormal and may indicate heat exhaustion. If it rises to around 40.5-41 degrees Celsius or above, then the pet may be suffering from heatstroke. Without prompt treatment, most pets will not survive.

Signs of Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion in Pets

Fortunately, you don’t need to take your pet’s temperature to know if your pet is overheating. Pets with heat exhaustion or heatstroke may show the following signs (generally in combination with exposure to hot environments or an area with poor ventilation):

  • Panting rapidly
  • Noisy breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Salivating or drooling excessively
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Sunken or glassy eyes
  • Bright red or tacky gums
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Collapse

Heatstroke can be life-threatening, especially if not caught and treated quickly. Call us immediately if you think your pet may be overheating!

Risk Factors for Heatstroke in Pets

A pet may be at risk for overheating if they are:

  • Outside in hot temperatures, especially on sunny days without access to shade or water
  • Exercising (including just walking) during the heat of the day
  • Stuck in a hot car, even with the windows cracked and even on a relatively cool day
  • Inside a warm house, apartment, garage, or other enclosed space without air-conditioning or fans or with poor ventilation

Brachycephalic pets (those with short noses or flat faces, such as boxers, bulldogs, pugs, Persians, Himalayans, and Burmese cats), overweight pets, senior pets, puppies and kittens, pets with dark skin or fur, and those with certain medical conditions (like heart or lung disease) are more prone to suffering from heatstroke. Pets who have overheated in the past are also at higher risk.

Treating Heatstroke in Pets

If your pet seems to be suffering from heatstroke or heat exhaustion, call us right away! Heatstroke is a medical emergency.

Based on the information you provide, we will instruct you to either bring your pet into the clinic right away for evaluation and treatment or ask you to start cooling your pet at home first, using either a garden hose or a cool bath. Do not put your pet into an ice bath or cold water.

When your pet arrives at our clinic, we will give your pet intravenous (IV) fluids. We’ll also provide additional treatments as needed to try to reverse the effects of heatstroke. Hospitalization may be required.

Preventing Heatstroke in Pets

To help prevent heat exhaustion or heatstroke in your pet:

  • Make sure your pet has access to shade and plenty of room temperature (not cold) water to drink.
  • Encourage your pet to drink water frequently (at least once an hour) when outside in warm or hot weather.
  • If your cat or dog is a picky drinker, ask us for tips to help make sure your pet is getting enough fluids.
  • Consider exercising your pet in the morning or evening, when the temperature is lower.
  • If you must be out with your pet during the middle of the day, stay in the shade when possible.
  • If you leave your pet home during the day, consider turning on fans and closing curtains or shades or keeping the air-conditioning running to keep the temperature cooler inside.
  • Never leave your pet alone in a vehicle, even on days that don’t seem that warm. When it’s only 21 degrees Celsius outside, the inside of a car can climb to over 37 degrees in just 20 minutes! On a 29.5-degree day, your vehicle’s interior can reach 40 degrees in only 10 minutes. Cracking the windows makes very little difference.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about heat exhaustion or heatstroke in pets. We’d be happy to discuss them with you.

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