Heatstroke in Pets
With summer well on its way and temperatures starting to rise, the dangers for our furry friends start to rise too. Even though the summer months can be a fun and enjoyable, it is important to be aware of certain situations that could put our pets at risk and how to prevent or handle them. Of all the problems that may be encountered, heat stroke may be the most deadly if not treated properly.
Cats and dogs cannot sweat like humans. Cats eliminate body heat primarily through panting and can release small amounts of heat through their paw pads. Dogs also lower their body temperatures through panting and paw pads (only in small amounts as well). The normal body temperature for both species is 101-102.5°F and the most accurate way to take their temperature is rectally. Heat stroke can occur anytime that your pet is exposed to high temperatures for any length of time. If the body temperature reaches 104-106°F, this is considered a moderate heat stroke and can be survived if prompt first aid and medical attention is given. Any body temperature over 106°F is considered a severe heat stroke, which if immediate veterinary attention is not administered, is deadly. If prompt medical attention is not given, multiple organs can be severely damaged as a result of such high body temperatures. The GI tract, kidneys, liver, heart, muscles, brain, and bone marrow can all be affected. Blood vessels will dilate and a form of shock will develop if the temperature continues to rise.
Signs of Heat Stroke
Heavy panting/difficulty breathing
Red or pale gums
Deep red or purple tongue
Profuse salivation/saliva – thick and sticky
Rapid heart beat
Lack of coordination
If You Suspect Heat Stroke
- Immediately remove them from the heat and call your veterinarian! Take them to the shade or into an air conditioned area and prepare to transport them to the clinic.
- NEVER immerse a pet suffering from a heat stroke into cold water! Rinse them thoroughly with warm/cool (NOT COLD) water, then try to get air circulating around them. Cooling your pet too quickly may lead to hypothermia.
- If possible, try to take their rectal temperature every 5 minutes until you get to the vet. Use a thermometer and lubricant and always take the right precautions to keep both you and your furry friend safe. If this is not possible, take their temperature right off and try again as soon as you can.
- Once the rectal temperature has reached 103°F, the body will start cooling itself. It is important to stop trying to lower the temperature, wrap your pet up in a dry blanket or towel to try to stabilize the temperature and prevent any more heat loss or gain.
- Getting your pet to the vet as soon as possible, even if symptoms have resolved is very important. Increased body temperature can do severe damage to the internal organs and you may not see signs for a few days.
Precautions to Prevent Heat Stroke
- NEVER leave your pet in a parked car! Temperatures in a parked car can reach well above 100°F in a matter of minutes, even if parked in the shade with the windows rolled down. Many owners don’t realize how serious this danger is and hundreds of dogs a year are treated and die from heat exposure in this situation.
- Pets with predisposed conditions are more likely to suffer from heat stroke. Heart disease, obesity, old age, or any type of breathing issues are a few conditions that could make an affected pet a higher risk for heat stroke.
- Make sure any pet outside has access to shade and water.
- Limit exercise during the hottest period of the day. Avoid hot surfaces such as asphalt or concrete that can absorb heat.
- Never muzzle your pet on hot days. This restricts panting, which is a way they release internal heat.
- Allowing your pet to swim during hot days can also keep them cool.
If you have any questions regarding heat stroke, contact your veterinarian.