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The high temperatures and heat-related illnesses across the U.S. over the last few years have made headlines. The significant temperature spikes throughout the country have reminded us to think about staying cool and avoiding danger.

Similar to humans, pets are prone to heat stroke in the summer, especially in hot and humid conditions. Heat-related illness can affect any pet, regardless of species, age, breed, or gender. Recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, the differences between these two, and understanding how to keep our pets cool when temperatures spike, can help prevent a trip to the animal hospital.

How Pets Regulate Their Temperature

Dogs and cats have several ways to keep cool but do not sweat like humans to regulate their body temperature. While pets have some sweat glands on their paw pads, they are insufficient for dealing with extreme heat. When dogs get too hot, they pant to release excess heat, cool their internal organs, and regulate their body temperature. However, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can occur when their body temperature gets so high that panting is ineffective. Cats can also pant but are generally less likely to overexert themselves.

(Especially) At Risk Pets

While all pets are in danger when the weather is hot, at greater risk include those that are overweight, have heart or respiratory disease, dogs with laryngeal paralysis (lar par), brachycephalic breeds (dogs – Bulldogs, Boston Terrier, Boxer, Shih Tzu, Pekingese, Pug, Brussels Griffon, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, etc.; cats – Persian, Himalayan, Burmese, British Shorthair, Exotic Shorthair, etc.).

Signs of Heat Exhaustion in Pets

The average pet’s body temperature ranges between 99 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat exhaustion occurs when a pet’s body temperature rises above normal. Other symptoms of heat exhaustion can be wide-ranging, might develop gradually, and may not be apparent until the condition progresses to heat stroke and becomes severe.

You may notice:

  • Persistent panting
  • Lethargy with increased heart rate/ pulse
  • Your pet is seeking shade or water
  • Weakness
  • Dark pink gums or tongue

Signs of Heat Stroke in Pets

Heat exhaustion can escalate rapidly into heat stroke, and the symptoms may be similar. Typically, a pet is considered to be experiencing heat stroke when their body temperature exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit. At this stage, pets cannot cool themselves with their body’s natural mechanisms and require immediate veterinary attention. When dogs cannot cool their internal organs and systems, their body temperature rises, and blood flow gets redirected from vital internal organs, leading to organ failure. Due to these reasons, dogs suffering from heatstroke need urgent emergency veterinary care; otherwise, it will be fatal.

Symptoms include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Dark red gums and tongue
  • Vomiting (sometimes with blood)
  • Diarrhea (sometimes with blood)
  • Rapid pulse
  • Glazed-over eyes or wide, stressed eyes
  • Staggering or uncoordinated gait
  • Collapse
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Seizures
  • Petechiae, or bruising, is most commonly observed on the abdomen or ear pinnae

Signs may also include shock, pale or white mucous membranes, muscle tremors, and increased lethargy or unwillingness to move. Uncontrollable urination or defecation, coma, or seizures may also occur. Again, if your pet is experiencing any of these signs, they are in a health crisis and need veterinary intervention immediately.

Managing Signs of Heat-Related Illness in Pets

You should be on high alert if you notice your pet panting excessively, actively seeking water, showing signs of discomfort after being in the heat, or appearing distressed. Follow these steps if you suspect heat exhaustion:

  1. Move your pet to a shaded or air-conditioned area immediately.
  2. Provide fresh, cool drinking water.
  3. Take their temperature with a rectal thermometer every few minutes if possible.
  4. Call an animal emergency hospital for guidance. BEVS Emergency Department is open 24/7 and can be reached at (802) 863-2387.
  5. If the clinical team recommends it, pour cool (not cold) water on your pet’s underside; continue this as needed. Never submerge a pet in cold water, as this can cause hypothermia.
  6. Use a fan to ensure airflow over your dog to assist in evaporative cooling.
  7. Once their temperature drops to 103 degrees, remove the fan and stop applying cool water.
  8. Transport your pet to the emergency clinic.

Seek Follow-up Care

Pets who seem to recover from heat-related trauma should still be seen by a veterinarian soon after their episode. Your veterinarian will examine and monitor your pet for organ damage, shock, and dehydration and can determine if further treatment and support is needed. Pets who have experienced heat stroke are susceptible to another episode since their internal set-points are altered.

Preventing Heat-Related Emergencies and Illness

Never leave your pet in a car. Leaving your pet in a vehicle, even in the shade, even with windows cracked, is never a good idea. Internal temperatures in a car can reach triple digits within minutes on a warm day.

Limit exercise in warm weather. A common cause of heat exhaustion is over-exertion in warm temperatures. Limit activity to the cooler parts of the day (early morning, evening).

Access to water and shade. Heat stroke can occur if pets are left outside without access to shade or water. In the hot parts of the day, the safest place for them is indoors in the air conditioning. But if they are outside, they must have access to shade and fresh, cool water. A doggy pool is also a great way to allow pets to cool off.

Stay indoors. In extreme weather, ensure pets can come indoors whenever they wish. Keep drapes and blinds closed during the day to keep your house cooler and remember to leave your pet fresh, cool water, and a fan on if you leave. If your pet cannot come indoors, a garage or laundry room with a fan to circulate air may provide some shelter from the heat.

Care for pets at greater risk. Old, very young, and pets with health concerns may be at greater risk when heat and humidity are high, so observe them carefully.

We’re Here For You

Call us any time to determine the best option for your pet. At BEVS, our Emergency team is always ready to help.

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