Summer Dangers for Pets: Preventing Heatstroke

Heat stroke is just as dangerous for pets as it is for us!

If you have ever experienced heat stroke, you know how frightening and potentially lethal it can be. Heat stroke is just as dangerous to our pets, so we need to be careful when warmer temperatures set in.

What are the signs of heat stroke in pets?

Imagine not being able to shed your winter clothes on a hot summer day, and your only means of cooling off was by panting. Dogs and cats have little choice when it comes to keeping cool in summer heat. Recognizing the signs of heatstroke will allow for prompt treatment. Time is of the essence when treating this dangerous condition. Signs of heat stroke include
(but are not limited to):

  • body temperatures of 104-110F degrees
  • excessive panting
  • dark or bright red tongue and gums
  • sticky or dry tongue and gums
  • staggering
  • stupor
  • seizures
  • bloody diarrhea or vomiting
  • coma
  • death

It is wise to learn how to take your pet's temperature in the event of an emergency.

Things to Remember

Hot weather creates additional hazards for your pet. Unlike humans, animals can't change their wardrobe or turn on the air conditioning like humans do to keep comfortable. Using good common sense will help to prevent a heat-related pet emergency. Besides the obvious of providing shelter and shade, fresh water, and good grooming, here are some other things to remember to help keep your pet cool and healthy during extreme heat:

  • Be aware of ways that your pet could accidentally be caught without shade. Ask yourself these questions:

    • Is your pet on a tether and could potentially get caught out in the full sun?

    • Will the shade be available all day?

    • While the shelter provides shade, is it hotter inside the shelter? If possible, utilize shade from trees in addition to the dog house; assuring that there is sufficient shade all day long.

  • If your pet is left indoors, is air conditioning available? Will the house stay cool through the heat of the day? Basement access will provide a naturally cool area to keep your pet comfortable.

  • For indoor or outdoor animals, a cool water "bath" before leaving for work will provide additional cooling for your pet.

  • Is fresh, cool water available at all times? Can your pet spill the water source? Consider installing an automatic pet waterer.

  • Do not plan long walks or go jogging in the heat of the day, as this can be life-threatening for some dogs. Plan exercise and outdoor activities in the relative coolness of morning and evening time. Be sure to bring along fresh water or a collapsible drinking bowl to allow your pet to get a cool drink when needed.

  • NEVER leave your pet in the car, even it it is only for a "quick errand"! This is very dangerous, even on days that are only mildly warm. If you see a pet locked in a car, please call local animal authorities immediately, you may save their life!
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What to do if you suspect heat stroke:

  • Brachycephalic breeds (the short-nosed breeds, such as Bulldogs and Pugs), large heavy-coated breeds, and those dogs with heart or respiratory problems are more at risk for heat stroke. If you suspect heat stroke in your pet, seek veterinary attention immediately!

  • Find some shade immediately! Get your pet out of the heat.

  • Use cool water, not ice water, to cool your pet. (Very cold water will cause constriction of the blood vessels and impede cooling.)

  • Cool wet cloths on feet and around head.

  • Do not aid body cooling below 103 F degrees - some animals can actually get HYPOthermic, too cold.

  • Offer ice cubes for the animal to lick on until you can reach your veterinarian, but do not force ice or water on your pet.

Just because your animal is cooled and "appears okay", DO NOT assume everything is fine. Internal organs such as liver, kidneys, brain, etc. are definitely affected by the body temperature elevation, and blood tests and veterinary examination are needed to assess the current condition and any damage that may have been done. There is also a complex blood problem, called DIC (Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation) that can be a secondary complication to heat stroke that can be fatal.

Important information

If you have any questions about heatstroke in your pet or a pet you find locked in a parked car, please contact your veterinarian or local animal authorities immediately. This is a very time critical condition.

The color of the coat does make a difference in a couple of ways. First, just like humans wearing dark clothing, the effect of the heat will be more noticeable in the hot rays of the sun for dark-haired animals. The dark colors absorb the heat more than light colors, which reflect the heat away. For the record, ALL pets, regardless of coat color, should always have access to cool shade and fresh cool water in the summer heat and a dog house out in the sun doesn't count, as the temperatures inside can be even higher than outdoors even though they provide shade.

Coat color can also make a difference when thinking about the damaging effect of the sun's UV (ultraviolet) rays. Lighter-colored animals are much more prone to sunburn and skin cancer than their darker-colored companions. Cats, dogs, and horses that spend a lot of time in the sun and have a light colored coat or lack the black pigment around the eyes, ears, and nose, can get sunburned more easily and quickly. Cats in particular, love "sunbathing", as any cat lover knows! Long term effects of sun exposure may include skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma.

Remember heat stroke is deadly in a short amount of time! Hopefully you and your dog are staying cool in the summer heat!

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