Heatstroke in Pets: Recognition and Prevention

July 18, 2019

Heatstroke in Pets: Recognition and Prevention

With their coats of fur and minimal sweat glands, our pets are especially susceptible to the heat. As pet owners, we must be wary of the signs of overheating and do our best to prevent heat-related injuries such as heatstroke. If you believe your pet is suffering from a heat-related injury, call your family veterinarian immediately, or call or head to one of our emergency hospitals if your veterinarian is unavailable.

What Is Heatstroke in Pets?

Heatstroke is a serious medical condition characterized by an elevated core body temperature. A dog or cat’s normal body temperature ranges from 99 to 102.5 degrees, and a temperature higher than 103 degrees is generally considered abnormal. Heatstroke is typically diagnosed once the body’s temperature reaches 104.9 degrees or higher. Temperature is best taken rectally. Also, heatstroke is more than a high body temperature—coupled with other symptoms, multi-organ failure or cardiac arrest can occur. Signs of heatstroke can occur quickly and disease can progress rapidly without early intervention.

What are the signs of heatstroke in pets?

Signs of overheating are typically easy to spot if you keep a close eye on your pet. Classic signs include:

  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Physical exhaustion or unwillingness to move
  • Lack of coordination
  • Elevated core body temperature
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dark red mucous membranes of mouth
  • Collapse

Every pet is different, but all should be monitored closely. Some will show only one sign of heatstroke, while others will demonstrate several signs.

Which Animals Are at Risk?

All animals are at risk for heat exhaustion or stroke. Most animals have few sweat glands, which do not allow them to dissipate excess heat effectively. Rather, their panting or increased respiratory rate allows more air to pass over the mucous membranes in the mouth and nasal passages, which leads to increased evaporation and subsequent heat loss, but, this method also has its limits. Certain breeds of dogs and cats with shorter snouts are especially susceptible, including brachycephalic dog breeds such as boxers, pugs, shih tzus, and Pekingese, along with Persian or Himalayan cats. Take extra precautions with any pet who is geriatric, overweight, or has a thick or long coat, or is diagnosed with a respiratory, cardiovascular, or seizure disorder.

How can I prevent heatstroke in my pet?Heatstroke in Pets

If the weather is too hot for you, it is most certainly too hot for your pet. Exercise her during the cooler hours, such as the early morning or later in the evening. Choose a trail or path with plenty of shade and always bring enough fresh water for both you and your pet. If your pet is an avid swimmer, consider going for a dip rather than hitting the trail. Use a properly fitted life jacket if you are unsure of your pet’s swimming ability. Do not leave your pet in the car on a warm day, not even with the windows cracked open. Always leave your pet in an air-conditioned home on exceptionally hot days.

What Can I Do If I Believe My Pet Is Overheated?

The goal of heat exhaustion or stroke treatment is to safely reduce your pet’s core body temperature. You can start the cooling process yourself if you suspect your pet is overheated, but ultimately, you should head to your veterinarian as quickly as possible.

  • Immediately stop exercising your pet and allow her to rest
  • Move your pet to a shaded area
  • Offer your pet at-will cool water
  • Take your pet’s rectal temperature at the beginning of the cooling process and monitor it frequently
  • Hose down your pet with cool—not cold—water and use fans, if available, to encourage evaporative cooling

Depending on the severity of the heat injury, your pet may be admitted to the hospital for intravenous fluids, lab work, and supplementations.

Heatstroke is an urgent, but fortunately, preventable condition. Never hesitate to contact us if you have questions or would like further information.