You’re at the dog park one warm and humid day with your dog, and he’s running and playing with two other dogs, all having a great time. After about 5 minutes, you notice that your dog is panting rapidly, salivating, and is weak. He doesn’t want to jump into your car for the ride home. You lift him in, and he is very quiet once in the car. Is your dog in trouble? You bet.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a pet cannot lower their internal body temperature. A normal dog’s temperature is 101.5 F, and a degree up or down is no problem. But cell damage occurs when the internal body temperature rises over 105 F, and the pet is also at risk for death. A trip to the veterinary emergency clinic is in order, immediately, if his life is to be saved.
Because most of us don’t carry a thermometer around, we thought it would be a good idea to share some tips. Arlington Animal Hospital offers advice on how to recognize heat stroke in pets, how to prevent it, and its treatment.
Heat Stroke in Pets
Heat stroke is most common in dogs, but cats can also suffer from overheating. The condition affects every organ in the body. When pets get overheated, they cannot sweat the way we do. Panting is their main method of dissipating heat, but when a hot and humid environment prevents cooling of the body, blood is diverted away from internal organs, such as the kidneys, liver, heart, and brain. When these organs do not receive enough blood, they begin to fail.
Death is common with heat stroke, and it cannot be understated that this is a medical emergency that needs immediate veterinary attention if the pet is to survive. Here are the most common signs:
- Salivating excessively
- Rapid and/or irregular heart rate
- Bright red or purple gums, mouth, and tongue
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Preventing Heatstroke in Pets
Among the most common causes of heat stroke occurs when pets are left in parked cars. Studies show that a car’s internal temperature reaches triple digits within minutes on a 90-degree day. On a 70-degree day, triple digits occur within 30 minutes. Never assume that it’s okay to leave your dog in the car unattended, even in the shade with the windows cracked. The risk of death due to heat stroke is all too real.
Other ways to prevent heat stroke in pets:
Limit exercise – In hot and humid weather, reduce exercise or skip it altogether. Even on mild or warm days, go for your daily walk or run with your dog during the cooler parts of the day: early morning and evening.
Cool off often – If you are outside playing, make sure your dog takes plenty of rest periods between activity. Also make sure your pets all have access to shade, plenty of fresh, cool water, and the option to come indoors whenever they wish.
Indoor rules – Indoor temperatures can rise dangerously when it’s hot outside. Many people turn off the air when they leave in the morning for work. Instead, consider leaving the air conditioner on at a comfortable but conservative temperature during the day. If your house has a room that tends to be cooler, make sure your pets have access to it. Indoor pets also need plenty of water to drink, of course.
Another tip: Close your curtains in the morning to prevent the sun’s rays from shining in and keep your house cooler.
Be aware of risk factors – Some pets are more at risk than others. Older pets, those with health problems, and the very young are more susceptible to the risks of extreme temperatures.
Watch flat-faced dogs carefully – Brachycephalic dog breeds (pugs, bulldogs, and Pekingese) are also particularly at risk of overheating. They need to be kept inside in air conditioning during hot weather. These breeds have a hard time breathing due to their shortened airways, even in mild weather, and, as a result, they also don’t cool themselves by panting very well.
What to Do if You Suspect Heat Stroke in Your Pet
If your pet is exhibiting the signs of heat stroke, get him to the veterinarian immediately. A quick cool-off before you leave with the garden hose, especially on the groin and belly, can help start the cooling off process. Don’t use cold water or ice to try and cool your pet, as this can cause more problems. You can also use cool, wet towels and wrap them around his head, armpits, and paws for the trip to the veterinarian.
It’s helpful to call ahead, so that veterinary staff can be prepared to start emergency and life-saving measures as soon as you hit the door.
We hope this information has answered some of your questions. Heat stroke in pets can be scary and upsetting, and so it’s best to prevent it by keeping your pets cool and hydrated. If you have any concerns please call us; we’re here for you!
2624 Columbia Pike,
Arlington, VA 22204
8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
8 a.m. – 2 p.m.
- Doctors’ hours are by appointment only.