You and your pet enjoy having fun in the sun, but the warmer temperatures can be problematic for your pet if they develop heatstroke. Our team at Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care provides information about this dangerous condition, as well as guidelines to safeguard your pet.

All pets are susceptible to heatstroke

Pets dissipate heat mostly through panting. They have a few sweat glands in their feet and around their nose, but they rely mainly on panting and external cooling to prevent overheating. Cats also wet their coats using saliva to help keep cool. Certain brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs, chow chows, bulldogs, and Persian cats, are more prone to heatstroke. Overweight and geriatric pets, and those already affected by heart and lung disease, are also at higher risk. In addition to hot, humid days, excessive exercise or an inadequate water supply can lead to heatstroke in pets. 

Heatstroke can be life-threatening for pets

As a pet’s temperature increases above their normal range (i.e., 101 to 102.5 degrees), an inflammatory response is triggered that affects their entire body. This inflammation damages cells, and at high enough temperatures (i.e., 105 degrees and higher), vital organs, such as the brain, kidneys, and liver, are damaged. Early onset signs include:

  • Excessive panting and drooling
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Red gums or tongue

As the body temperature rises and the organs suffer more damage, signs include lethargy, disorientation, seizures, and collapse. Multiple body systems can be affected.

  • Brain — Swelling, hemorrhage, and necrosis can occur.
  • Clotting factors Disseminated intravascular coagulation can occur, resulting in bleeding from many body sites.
  • Heart — Heart damage results in inadequate blood circulation, causing arrhythmias and shock.
  • Lungs — Lung tissue damage results in respiratory distress.
  • Gastrointestinal — Damage to the gastrointestinal tract can lead to bacteria entering the bloodstream and cause sepsis.
  • Kidneys — Damage can result in acute kidney failure.

Pets affected by heatstroke need emergency veterinary care

If you suspect your pet is suffering from heatstroke, take them to a cool, well-ventilated area, and rectally take their temperature using a digital thermometer. Temperatures higher than 103 degrees are cause for concern, and temperatures higher than 105 degrees indicate advanced heatstroke. Offer your pet cool water and allow them to drink as much as they will. Submerge their body in tepid water, if possible. Do not use ice or ice water for cooling. If you cannot submerge your pet, sponge them down, concentrating on their abdomen and neck. You can also apply alcohol to their feet. Take their temperature every five minutes, and continue water application until their temperature drops below 103 degrees. Take them to our Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care emergency service as soon as possible. If your pet seems to recover after the water cooling, you still need to take them to a veterinary professional for evaluation of possible organ damage. On the way to the hospital, keep the windows down and the air conditioner on, to help cool your pet.

Heatstroke requires veterinary care

If your pet overheats, they will be put on intravenous fluids to help replace fluid losses. Depending on your pet’s temperature on arrival, cooling methods may be continued. Supplemental oxygen is often needed, especially in pets with respiratory issues. Antibiotics may be necessary to address bacterial infections secondary to gastrointestinal damage. Blood tests will help determine how severely your pet’s vital organs are affected, and treatment will be tailored to treat their condition.

Prognosis for pets suffering from heatstroke

The highest body temperature that your pet reaches also plays a role in their prognosis. Body temperatures above 109 degrees can result in severe organ damage and high mortality rates. Pets experiencing arrhythmias, clotting abnormalities, and neurologic signs are at higher risk for death.

Heatstroke in pets can be prevented

If you are hot, your pet is likely also hot, and you should pay close attention to any concerning signs. Take these preventive measures:

  • Provide clean, cool water frequently when outside. Bring water bottles and a water bowl on outings, and offer drinks often.
  • Restrict your pet’s exercise on hot, humid days. Walk them in the early morning or late evening.
  • Acclimate dogs to warmer temperatures over one to two months by gradually increasing the time they spend outdoors.
  • Ensure outdoor pets have access to adequate shade and many clean water sources.
  • Never take your pet on walks on hot pavement. 
  • Never leave pets alone in closed vehicles. Temperatures can climb to excessive levels on mild, overcast days. Leaving a window cracked does not mitigate the risk.

Heatstroke is serious, but by following a few guidelines, you can prevent your pet from falling victim to this dangerous condition. If you are concerned that your pet may be suffering from heatstroke, contact the emergency team at Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care.