Despite understanding the dangers of high temperatures and humidity for pets, many pet owners still experience the horror of seeing their pet succumb to heatstroke. Learn more about this potentially deadly condition, and how to keep your furry pal safe from the hazards of heatstroke this summer. 

What’s the difference between heat exhaustion and heatstroke in pets?

Heat exhaustion is the stage occurring prior to heatstroke that, if treated quickly enough, can be stopped from progressing to life-threatening heatstroke. Typically, heat exhaustion is classified as having a body temperature from 103 to 106 degrees. When a pet’s temperature rises higher than 106 degrees, they are in the heatstroke danger zone, when organs can shut down and cardiac arrest can occur. However, pets don’t always follow this rule, and can develop heatstroke at a temperature lower than 106 degrees, depending on their heat tolerance. Regardless of the terminology, keep your pet’s body temperature from reaching 103 degrees or above to eliminate heat-related issues.

What are heatstroke signs in pets?

Early heat exhaustion signs are subtle and can easily be missed, but if you keep a close eye on your furry pal when outdoors, you can quickly spot warning signs. As overheating progresses, you may notice these advanced signs:

  • Glazed eyes
  • Slower response
  • Excessive panting
  • Thick, stringy drool
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dizziness, or lack of coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Bright red gums
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures

If your pet seems slow to respond, is panting more heavily than normal, or is lethargic, move them indoors immediately.

Are some pets more likely than others to develop heatstroke?

While all pets are at risk for overheating if the conditions are right, some are more prone than others. Pets with a higher heatstroke risk include those with thick coats or long hair, young or old pets, and brachycephalic breeds (i.e., dogs and cats with short noses and flat faces). Overweight pets, and pets with respiratory or cardiac conditions, also are especially susceptible to suffering from heat-related issues. 

Environmental factors can increase a pet’s heatstroke risk. Be aware not only of high temperatures, but also high humidity, which can quickly make a pet uncomfortable. A balmy day with 70-degree temperatures can cause heatstroke in an active pet if the humidity levels are excessive.

What should I do if my pet is overheating?

If your pet appears too hot when outdoors, the first step is to bring them indoors. Next, take a rectal temperature to determine your pet’s baseline. If their temperature is higher than 103 degrees, follow this cooling process until their temperature drops:

  1. Position a fan directly in front of your pet.
  2. Run a cool water bath over your pet, keeping their head propped up out of the water.
  3. Check your pet’s temperature every five minutes to ensure it doesn’t drop too low.
  4. Offer fresh, cool water to your pet, but do not force them to drink.
  5. Once your pet’s temperature has dropped below 103 degrees, stop the cooling process. 

Avoid wrapping your pet in wet towels, which will halt cooling evaporation. Also, do not use ice to cool your pet, since that can cool them too quickly and cause further issues.

How can I prevent heatstroke in my pet?

You can help keep your furry pal from overheating with some basic safety practices. Follow these tips to prevent heatstroke in your pet:

  • Limit exercise and outdoor activity on excessively hot or humid days.
  • Provide plenty of shade and water when your pet is outdoors.
  • Never leave your pet in a parked carrolling down the windows and parking in the shade does not help.
  • Choose water activities to keep your pet cool while exercising.
  • Use a cooling vest to help evaporate your pet’s body heat.
  • Spend time outdoors with your pet during the cool early morning hours and avoid the heat of day and early evening.

Monitor your pet closely while outdoors to ensure they do not overheat, and avoid extreme conditions whenever possible to keep your four-legged friend safe.

If your pet is struggling to stay cool this summer, contact our Medina Veterinary Clinic team for an appointment. Underlying medical conditions can cause pets to be less able to regulate their body temperature, and a clean bill of health can help your furry pal safely enjoy the summer.