Every summer we treat dozens of dogs and cats for heat stress or heat stroke. Here is why dogs and cats are susceptible, heat stress symptoms and what you can do to prevent your pet from experiencing this avoidable but damaging event.
How Dogs and Cats Release Body Heat
Our bodies react to rising temperatures and dew points differently than dogs or cats. When our bodies overheat we sweat which lowers our body’s internal temperature. Dogs and cats don’t have the same ability. They can only sweat through their footpads and nose. Panting is how they dissipate their body heat, but its effect is limited and under extreme conditions they can be overwhelmed.
Pets Most At Risk for Heat Stress and Heat Stroke
- Dogs or cats that have suffered heat stress or heat stroke are most prone to getting it again.
- Very young and very old pets are more susceptible.
- Dogs or cats with long hair, short nose and flat faces do not tolerate heat well. Dog breed examples include, Bulldogs, Boxers, Boston Terriers, and Pekingese. Cat breed examples include Persians, Himalayans, and Exotics.
- Previous history of heart-related disease
- Obese or pets that get little exercise
Symptoms of Heat Stress and Heat Stroke
- Excessive panting, drooling or difficulty breathing
- Lethargy, wobbly, uncoordinated movement
- An increase in heart and respiratory rate
- Restless behavior as your dog or cat tries to find a cool spot
- Redness of the tongue and gums and hot paws
- Signs of dehydration: Small amounts of urine or no urine are produced
- Vomiting, or black tarry stools
- Elevated body temperature. If you have a rectal thermometer check your dog or cat’s body temperature. Normal is around 101.5°. If above 103° F, call the office immediately.
What to Do If Your Dog or Cat Has Heat Stress or Heat Stroke
- Lower the body temperature. Use cool—not ice cold—water applied with wet towels or a garden hose. Ice cold water may constrict blood vessels near the body surface and decrease heat dissipation. Keep in mind shivering creates internal heat.
- Dogs are more likely to accept being sprayed with a garden hose or being immersed in cool water. Cats may respond better to cool, wet towels or isopropyl alcohol on their footpads, groin and under forelegs.
- Encourage your dog or cat to drink but don’t force them. Use cool—not ice cold—water for their drinking water.
- Call our office and bring your pet in. We need to ensure your dog or cat has not had damage to internal organs. Complications include blood-clotting disorder, kidney failure, heart irregularities, or fluid build-up in the brain.
How to Prevent Heat Stress and Heat Stroke
- Know the warning signs. (See Symptoms above.)
- Know your pet. If they’ve had heat stress before, are obese, under exercised, or longhaired and short faced, keep them on the down-low on hot humid days.
- Keep them hydrated. Give them plenty of fresh, clean water when it is hot outdoors.
- A lightweight summer haircut helps. Protect them from the sun and never shave to the skin. Leave a one-inch layer of hair.
- Avoid leaving your dog or cat in a parked car or enclosed areas like garages and sun porches, and avoid hot asphalt.
- Reduce the amount of time your dog exercises on a hot, humid day and shift exercise to early morning or early evening.
It’s summer and the living is easy. Being aware of the damage heat and humidity can do to your dogs and cats is important. We’re here to help should you have any questions or concerns.