When it’s hot outside, our pets are at higher risk for heatstroke, which is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition.
So, what causes this medical emergency in pets, and more important, how can you prevent heatstroke in your cat or dog?
Heatstroke and overheating in pets
Like people, pets can overheat. Unlike us, though, dogs and cats don’t use sweating as their primary way of cooling themselves. When our pets get hot, they pant; but panting isn’t always enough to bring down their body temperature. This puts our pets at increased risk for:
- Heat exhaustion: A slight elevation in body temperature that can lead to heatstroke if not reversed.
- Heatstroke: A dangerous condition in which a pet’s core body temperature is dangerously high and the pet can’t lower it on their own. During heatstroke, the brain, liver, kidneys, and other organs may not receive enough blood and potentially fail.
Normal body temperature for dog and cats is around 100-102°F. Once their temperature reaches about 104°F, it’s considered abnormal and may indicate heat exhaustion. If it rises to around 104-106°F or above, then the pet may be suffering from heatstroke. Without prompt treatment, most pets will not survive.
Signs of heatstroke and heat exhaustion in pets
Fortunately, you don’t need to take your pet’s temperature to know if your pet is overheating. Pets with heat exhaustion or heatstroke may show the following signs (generally in combination with exposure to hot environments or an area with poor ventilation):
- Rapid panting
- Noisy breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- Salivating or drooling excessively
- Restlessness or agitation
- Sunken or glassy eyes
- Bright red or tacky gums
- Confusion or disorientation
Heatstroke can be life-threatening, especially if not caught and treated quickly. Call us immediately if you think your pet may be overheating!
Risk factors for heatstroke in pets
A pet may be at risk for overheating if they are:
- Outside in hot temperatures, especially on sunny days without access to shade or water.
- Exercising (including just walking) during the heat of the day.
- Stuck in a hot car, even with the windows cracked and even on a relatively cool day. In California this can be a problem year-round.
- Inside a warm house, apartment, garage, or other enclosed space without air-conditioning or fans or with poor ventilation.
Brachycephalic pets (those with short noses or flat faces, such as boxers, bulldogs, pugs, Persians, Himalayans, and Burmese cats), overweight pets, senior pets, puppies and kittens, pets with dark skin or fur, and those with certain medical conditions (like heart or lung disease) are more prone to heatstroke. Pets who have overheated in the past are also at higher risk.
Treating heatstroke in pets
If your pet seems to be suffering from heatstroke or heat exhaustion, call us right away! Heatstroke is a medical emergency.
Based on the information you provide, we’ll have your either bring your pet into the clinic right away for evaluation and treatment or ask you to start cooling your pet at home first, using a garden hose or a cool bath. Do not put your pet into an ice bath or cold water.
When your pet arrives at our clinic, we’ll give your pet intravenous (IV) fluids. We’ll also provide additional treatments as needed to try to reverse the effects of heatstroke. Hospitalization may be required.
Preventing heatstroke in pets
To help prevent heat exhaustion or heatstroke in your pet:
- Make sure your pet has access to shade and plenty of room temperature (not cold) water to drink.
- Encourage your pet to drink water frequently (at least once an hour) when outside in warm or hot weather.
- If your cat or dog is a picky drinker, ask us for tips to help make sure your pet is getting enough fluids.
- Consider exercising your pet in the morning or evening when the temperature is lower.
- If you must be out with your pet during the middle of the day, stay in the shade when possible.
- If you leave your pet home during the day, consider turning on fans, closing curtains or shades, and/or keeping the air-conditioning running to keep the environment cool.
- Never leave your pet alone in a vehicle, even on days that don’t seem that warm to you. When it’s only 70°F outside, the inside of a car can climb to over 99°F in just 20 minutes! On an 85°F Day, your vehicle’s interior can reach 104°F in only 10 minutes. Cracking the windows makes very little difference.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about heat exhaustion or heatstroke in pets. We’d be happy to discuss them with you.