Preventing Heat Stroke in Dogs and Cats

Heat stroke is a major concern for pet owners. Humans and animals respond differently when they get too hot.

Humans are able to sweat to cool themselves; dogs and cats cannot sweat and must rely on panting to make themselves more comfortable. Panting isn’t a very efficient method of cooling off when it gets very hot and/or humid, however, and as a result, dogs and cats can overheat. With dogs this is especially true if they are overweight, have a thick coat, have heart or lung problems, or have a short muzzle. 

Heat stroke symptoms

If your companion animal is overheating, s/he will usually appear sluggish and may not respond to you. His or her tongue and gums may be bright red and very dry, and s/he may be vomiting or having diarrhea. He or she may also have an unusual breathing pattern, panting very hard, or have a high heart rate. Heat stroke in animals is very serious and can be life-threatening. If your animal has been exposed to elevated temperatures and exhibits any of these signs, seek emergency veterinary help immediately. 

Heat stroke's deadly affects

Animals that overheat can develop kidney problems, bleeding disorders, and brain damage very rapidly, sometimes within a few minutes. As a result, an animal can go into a coma and die. On the way to the veterinarian, cool your animal down with wet towels, by spritzing him/her with cool water, or by providing ice chips for him/her to chew if s/he is conscious. (Note: these measures are not substitutes for medical treatment.) 

Heat stroke prevention

Heat stroke is preventable. When the weather is warm, your companion animals must have access to plenty of water and should not be left outside for long periods. If you must leave your animal outside, make sure that s/he has a cool, shady area in which to rest.

Additionally, if you exercise your animal, do it in the early morning or late evening – not in the middle of the day when temperatures are at their peak. And NEVER leave your animal in a car, even if you leave the windows down. Your furry friend could die of heat stroke in as little as 10 to 15 minutes.

Remember the factors that increase an animal’s risk of developing heat stroke: water deprivation, excessive humidity, obesity, excessive exercise, cardiovascular disease, and lack of acclimatization to the temperature. Don’t forget, your companion animal relies on YOU, so take good care of him/her and enjoy your summer together!

If you have questions regarding heat stroke, talk with your veterinarian or call REACH Hospital, 665-4399.