Signs of Heatstroke in Cats and Dogs

Dogs and cats are especially vulnerable to heat stroke because their furry bodies cannot sweat to dissipate heat. Instead, they pant or breathe rapidly to cool themselves. When they are unable to effectively cool themselves, their core temperature rises rapidly. This can lead to serious and sometimes fatal complications including seizures, organ failure and clotting problems.

Signs of Heatstroke in Cats and Dogs:

Heavy panting

Heavy drooling

Trouble breathing

Rapid heartbeat

Vomiting

Agitation/ Restlessness (cats may pace)

Diarrhea (especially bloody)

Stumbling/seizures

Lethargy

Extreme thirst

Prevention:

The best way to prevent heatstroke in your pets is to avoid the dangerous conditions that cause it.

People often associate heatstroke with high temperatures, although it can also occur when humidity levels are high, despite the temperature. 

Heatstroke is also possible in hot, humid, and unventilated areas indoors.

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 Tips to avoid Heatstroke in your Pets:

  • Never leave your pet alone in a parked vehicle even with the windows cracked. A parked car can become an inferno in minutes, even with the windows open, and your pet could quickly succumb to heatstroke inside.

  • Even if your pet loves the outdoors and spends the majority of his time in your backyard, it’s best to provide him with an air-conditioned retreat if possible.

  • While outside, be sure your pet has access to shade and shelter away from direct sunlight and sufficient amounts of cool water to drink. Don't forget some of the water might spill or evaporate.

  • Offer access to a wading pool with shallow, cool water if possible.  A kiddie pool is great for this.

  • Take your daily walk or run with your dog in the early morning or evening hours, when temperatures are less extreme. You can also bring along plenty of drinking water and a damp rag to place around your dog's neck to keep it cool.  Help your dog to avoid overexertion.  Many dogs will eagerly run with you to the point of exhaustion if you let them. 

  • Older, arthritic, obese or shorter-nosed dog breeds might be more susceptible to heatstroke. Dogs with dark coloured coats will absorb more heat from the sun which may also lead to overheating.

  • Touch the sidewalk with the palm of your hand, if it feels too hot for you, it’s also too hot for the pads of your pet’s paws.

  • If your pet is inside a house without air conditioning -  keep the curtains pulled to shut out direct sunlight with one or more fans running to circulate the air.  Also, try to place several bowls of drinking water throughout the house.

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Treatment

As soon as you see signs of heatstroke in your pet it is imperative that you begin a cooling method. Soak towels in lukewarm water and wrap your pet in them. It may feel counterintuitive to use lukewarm water, but never use cool or cold water because if the cooling happens too rapidly, it can cause hypothermia and be detrimental to your pet. You can also place your pet in front of a fan to help reduce her body temperature.

After you’ve begun to cool your pet down, call your veterinarian for further instruction. In some cases, pets affected by heatstroke require intravenous fluids, blood pressure support, or other medications depending on the severity of their condition.  Keep your pet wrapped in a damp towel while transporting to the veterinarian.

By being aware of the signs of heat stroke, you can keep your pet safe from the heat this summer and have fun!

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