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Watch Out for Heatstroke - It Can Kill Your Dog or Cat

Watch Out for Heatstroke - It Can Kill Your Dog or Cat

As the temperature heats up in most parts of the country, unique dangers that can kill your dog or cat present themselves. Hopefully you already know about summer safety basics, such as not overexerting your pet, providing plenty of water and not leaving your pet in your car. 

Pets are unable to sweat all over their bodies like people can. They rely completely upon panting (to get rid of hot air and inhale cool air) to cool themselves. Some sweating occurs through their foot pads and nose, but this is insufficient to effectively cool them. These differences in pets make them especially prone to heatstroke during hot, humid weather. There is no critical temperature to avoid since heatstroke can occur at even lower environmental temperatures if the humidity is very high. 

Heatstroke Risks and Symptoms

What you might not be aware of is what to do if your pet suffers from a common heat-induced condition called heatstroke. According to our veterinarians, heatstroke is a medical emergency and a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Excessive or exaggerated panting
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Drooling
  • High fever
  • Dark red gums
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Unresponsiveness to commands and surroundings
  • Vomiting
  • Collapse
  • Staring/anxious expression
  • Warm/dry skin

It is imperative to get the pet to a doctor immediately as permanent organ damage can occur, i.e., heart, liver, kidneys and brain. There is also a complex blood problem, called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC). It can be a secondary complication to heatstroke and can be fatal. 

Safety Tips

We always recommend against leaving your pet outside on hot days. Even if your pet has access to shaded areas, he or she can easily become overheated. By using common sense when it comes to hot weather, you can help prevent the risk of heatstroke in your dog or cat.
  • Provide shade: If you do take your pet outside for exercise, play or a walk, make sure he or she has plenty of access to cool water, shaded areas and rest.
  • Know the risks for certain dog breeds: During hot weather, it is especially important to be cautious with short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds, such as Pugs, Shi Tzus, Pekingese, Bulldogs and Boxers, which have shorter faces or noses. These breeds are especially prone to suffering from heatstroke as they aren’t able to pant as efficiently as dogs with longer faces.
  • Know the risks for certain cat breeds: Some cats are more susceptible than others, too, like short-nosed breeds (Persians and exotics), young and old cats, overweight cats and cats with airway disease. 
  • Consider the age of your pet: Very old or very young and sick or debilitated pets, especially pets with heart or respiratory disease are at even greater risk for heatstroke and need extra-special consideration during the hot months. Even pets that are used to being outside may not be able to tolerate the hot weather if they are sick or getting older. 
  • Exercise cautiously: In addition to not overexerting your pets, not walking them during the middle of the day or leaving them in your car on a hot day, don’t chain your pets in the sun on hot concrete or asphalt. Pets can burn their pads on hot asphalt, rock or sand very easily during very hot weather. Never leave a muzzle on a dog during hot weather as the pet may not be able to pant freely. Be aware that a pet can get heatstroke while swimming, and even the most athletic breeds and dogs that are very fit can suffer from heatstroke. 
  • Keep cool indoors: If your pets will be indoors on a hot day, give them access to water and a cool area. Keep an air conditioner or fan on. It is particularly important not to confine them to any room where temperatures are especially high (a sunroom, for example). In certain parts of the country even a closed garage can be too hot if there is insufficient air movement. 


What Should I Do if I Think My Pet has Heatstroke?

If you suspect heatstroke, head straight for the veterinarian’s office! While on your way, you can help lower your pet’s temperature by applying towels soaked in cool water to the hairless areas of the pet’s body, especially your pet’s feet (do not use ice water). If possible, place your pet’s face near a fan or in front of an air conditioning vent en route to the hospital. 


Need More Information?

For more information on seasonal risks like heatstroke, please visit your local Banfield Pet Hospital or browse through our pet health section for more articles like the ones below: