May 29th is National Heat Awareness Day, a day set aside each year to recognize the potentially dangerous effects of heat on people and pets. Our Compassion-First hospitals treat numerous emergency heatstroke cases each summer, in pets who overdo it or are left outside too long in warm weather. Heatstroke progresses quickly and, without prompt treatment, can become deadly. No one wants their pet to suffer the effects of this devastating condition, so ensure you know the signs, and how to keep your four-legged friend safe.
What is heatstroke in pets?
Heatstroke, or heat exhaustion, develops when your pet’s body temperature rises above the normal range of 100 to 102.5 degrees, as a result of high temperatures or humidity. When a pet is exposed to high temperatures with no escape, their body temperature can quickly climb to dangerously high levels, and the effects of heatstroke can develop. Heatstroke often develops when pets are left outside during hot or humid weather, exercise in hot weather, or are left in a vehicle. Our hospitals often see heatstroke cases in the first hot days of spring and summer, as pets are not yet acclimatized to the heat.
Which pets are at risk of developing heatstroke?
Any pet can develop heatstroke, although dogs typically are affected more often than cats, likely because outdoor cats retreat to cool hiding spots, such as under porches or bushes. Brachycephalic dog breeds (i.e., breeds with a shorter muzzle, such as the pug and Boston terrier) cannot cool themselves efficiently through panting and are more likely to be overcome by heat. Pets who are older, debilitated, overweight, or who suffer from a chronic disease condition are also at higher risk for heatstroke development. Your pet can also develop heat exhaustion by exercising in hot weather.
Heatstroke commonly develops in pets left in vehicles. Temperatures climb quickly inside a closed car, and extreme heat is not required for a vehicle to reach dangerously high temperatures. According to a study in the journal Pediatrics, the temperature inside a closed vehicle in 70-degree heat can rise to 89 degrees after 10 minutes, and to 113 degrees in 60 minutes. Cracking a window helps only marginally, and temperatures can still rise to oven-like levels.
What are heatstroke signs in pets?
As the weather gets warmer, ensure you know the signs that indicate your pet may be overheating, or that heatstroke has developed. Signs to watch for include:
- Excessive panting
- Excessive drooling
- Bright red gums
What should I do if my pet shows heatstroke signs?
If you believe your pet may be suffering from heatstroke, move them to a cool environment, such as your air-conditioned home, offer cool water to drink, and place them in a bathtub of cool—not cold—water. Never use cold water, which causes surface blood vessels to constrict, and warm blood to flow toward heat-sensitive internal organs, which may be damaged. Take your pet’s temperature with a digital thermometer, coating it with petroleum jelly or lubricant before inserting it into their rectum, and continue monitoring every few minutes during your cooling efforts. Remove your pet from the cool water when their body temperature reaches 103 degrees, and dry them off, as cooling will continue, and you don’t want to cause hypothermia. Take your pet to the nearest veterinary hospital if their temperature, and heatstroke signs, do not improve in 10 minutes, their condition worsens, or they have severe signs, such as collapse or unconsciousness.
How can I prevent heatstroke in my pet?
Heatstroke is a devastating, but preventable, condition, so as temperatures rise this spring and summer, take these precautions to keep your pet safe:
- Limit time outdoors — Keep your pet’s outdoor playtime to a minimum on hot days, check on them frequently, and never leave them unattended for an extended time. Pets at high risk, such as brachycephalic breeds and overweight pets, should go out for short bathroom breaks only on hot days.
- Provide water and shade — Ensure your pet has access to cool water in a tip-proof bowl at all times, and can escape to a shady spot to cool down.
- Exercise when it is cooler — Schedule your pet’s daily walk or jog—only if it’s not too warm—in the cooler morning or evening hours. Avoid exercising with your pet during the midday heat, and if they are playing outside, make them take frequent breaks, and provide cool water to drink.
- Leave your pet at home — Never leave your pet in a parked car, including on cooler days. Leave your pet safely at home while you run errands, to avoid being tempted to run into a business for “only a few minutes,” and leaving your pet unattended.
We hope you and your pet have a safe and enjoyable summer. If your pet develops heatstroke signs, or needs other emergency care, your local Compassion-First hospital is available 24 hours a day to help.