How to Tell if Your Pet Has Heatstroke – Pet City Vet

Humans love to get out in the sun to play, and our pets love to go along with us. People are able to adapt to varying weather conditions because we have developed ways to regulate our body temperature. Clothing of varying thicknesses and constructions help to keep us warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Sadly, our pets don’t usually have this kind of adaptability. During the summer months, it’s very common for pets to suffer from heatstroke. 

While humans have the ability to sweat and get rid of excess heat, our pets are not as fortunate. Most animals rely on panting and other forms of cooling. Pets who are stuck outdoors without a cooler safe space they can retreat to are susceptible to heatstroke and the dangers that come with it. Many pet owners are not aware of the signs of heatstroke, causing them to delay treatment for this condition. It’s important to know the signs because if left untreated, heatstroke can result in organ failure and possibly death. 

What Are the Signs of Heatstroke in Pets

Heatstroke or heat exhaustion occurs when your pet’s body temperature rises above 103F. It typically occurs when the ambient temperature rises above the pet’s ability to dissipate heat. Other things that can contribute to heatstroke include: 

  • A lack of ventilation
  • Exposure to the sun
  • Exercise 
  • High humidity

Dogs have only a couple of ways to cool off when their body temperature begins to rise. Blood vessels around the ears and face carry away heat, and their panting allows them to evaporate hot air from their lungs. If the ambient temperature and humidity are high enough, they cannot cool off quickly enough to avoid heatstroke. 

Cats are originally descended from desert animals, so they have many adaptations to survive in a hot, dry environment. They lose moisture slower than other animals and show little discomfort when ambient temperatures are high. However, this doesn’t mean that they are immune to heatstroke. 

Any pet can develop heatstroke, but certain traits can make it more likely for your pet to suffer from this condition. Animals who are overweight or elderly are less able to deal with the rise in body temperature. Flat faced or brachycephalic breeds are also less efficient at dissipating excess heat. 

Signs of heatstroke that are common to both cats and dogs include: 

  • Excessive panting and noisy breathing
  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Dark red gums and tongue
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lethargy 
  • Seizures 

If heatstroke progresses to an advanced stage, the pet may collapse or lapse into unconsciousness. 

What to Do if Your Pet Has Heatstroke

If you think that your pet is suffering from heatstroke, there are first aid steps that you can do to try and cool them down. Heatstroke can be a life-threatening condition and prompt intervention is crucial to ensure that your pet is safe. 

First, remove your pet from the hot environment as soon as possible. This also includes finding a spot with good ventilation and low humidity so that your pet’s natural heat loss mechanisms will be able to work to the fullest. You may also spray cool or tepid water on their fur and skin to help them maximize heat loss. Avoid using cold water, as it can reduce blood flow to the skin. A cool, dark room with a box fan or air conditioning is usually a good option. 

Second, make sure that they’re able to hydrate but not excessively. Pets can naturally want to drink to cool down, but drinking too much too quickly can also cause problems and bloating. Offer your pet small sips of water periodically so that they gradually rehydrate. You may have to entice your cat to drink water, especially if they’re picky.

Third, contact your veterinarian. They may advise you to bring in your pet. If they do, your pet may require tests, supportive treatment, or further observation. Serious cases of heatstroke may cause issues that are not immediately apparent. Contact your vet even if your pet appears to have recovered quickly, so that you can help your pet avoid long-term health consequences.

How to Prevent Heatstroke

  1. Have a cool, shaded area for your pet – Pets are smart and know when the heat is getting too much for them. They’ll naturally retreat to cooler spaces if they need to. Whether they’re left at home or when they’re with you outdoors, your pet should always have refuge nearby if they start to overheat. This goes doubly for puppies and kittens, as they may not be able to navigate to the cool area on their own. The best dog breeders ensure that the whelping area is either in a cool spot or is completely temperature controlled. 
  2. Have cool, clean water available – Dehydration makes it easier for your pet to suffer heatstroke. Access to cool drinking water can prevent a sharp rise in body temperature and is something that your pet should have at all times. 
  3. Watch out for hot surfaces – Our pets aren’t adapted to walking on hot sidewalks and streets. We have shoes so we almost never consider this fact, but it’s something that our pets live with every day. Reflected heat can also cause high ambient temperatures just above the ground, making these surfaces doubly worse for our pets. 
  4. Avoid exercise during hot weather – Our pets may not realize just how quickly they can overexert themselves when the temperatures are high. If you do have to exercise your pet during hot weather, keep the sessions short and always consider the three previous points in case of emergency. 

Our pets rely on us to keep them safe. Be prepared for heatstroke by taking steps to prevent it and knowing the signs when it’s happening. Your pet doesn’t have to stay cooped up indoors during the summer months so long as you keep all these things in mind. 

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