Heat Stroke : How To Keep Your Pet Cool & Safe This Summer
By Dr. Paige Roberts, Veterinarian
Everyone loves spending time outside with their pets especially when the weather is beautiful, and everyone is gathering for grilling or outdoor activities. Warm weather brings lots of fun, but as the temperature and humidity rise, so does the risk of heat stroke in pets. While dogs are the most common pets to present for this veterinary emergency, please keep in mind that theoretically any pet can experience heat stroke.
Recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke allows pet owners to intervene early. Common signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke include:
- Incessant panting, restlessness, or glazed eyes
- Excessive drooling from the nose and/or mouth
- Bright red, blue, or purple gums and/or a rapid heart rate
- Weakness or instability, collapse, or a wobbly/uncoordinated gait
- Inability to get up or walk
- Changes in attitude or mentation, disorientation, and/or seizures
- Signs of gastrointestinal distress (i.e., vomiting and/or diarrhea)
Of course, the most important part of reducing the illness and death rate associated with heat exhaustion and heat stroke is prevention. Here are a few ways you can reduce your pet’s risk of overheating during these warm summer months:
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
- Provide plenty of access to clean, fresh water.
- If dogs are extremely excited, active, or interested in an activity (i.e., playing fetch, hunting dogs, herders, etc.) you may have to bring the water to your pet and encourage them to drink water. If your pet is not wanting to hydrate, place a small amount of water on their tongue to moisten it.
- Provide a tempting water source can encourage your dog to consume more water if they are hesitant or distracted. You can add a small amount of any of the following things to some water to increase their interest in hydration: ice cubes, oral electrolyte solutions (i.e., Pedialyte, Hydralyte, etc.), chicken baby food, or the juice from canned chicken or tuna.
- Do not leave your pet in a parked car, not even with the windows rolled down.
- Temperatures can reach 120F inside of a car within minutes, even when the outdoor temperature is only in the 70s
- Leaving your pet inside a parked car is subjecting them to an extremely dangerous environment and exposing them to an extremely high risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
- It is best to take long walks in the early morning or later in the evening (keeping in mind that the pavement may still be hot and possibly burn their paw pads).
- Slowly acclimating your pet to the high temperatures and high humidity can decrease their risk in the long run; it is extremely important to take it slow as the weather starts to warm up.
- If your pet is at a high risk or prone to heat stroke (see below), you should take appropriate measures to limit exposure to high temperatures and high humidity. Consider leaving pets at home in an air-conditioned environment instead of taking them along to a cookout or outdoor gathering.
Some of our pets are more prone to heat stroke than others. Again, any pet can experience heat stroke, but here are a few factors that increase a pet’s risk:
- Brachycephalic breads (i.e., bulldogs, pugs, boston terriers, pekingese, boxers, etc.)
- Overweight and obese pets
- Elderly pets or those with mobility issues
- Pets with acute or chronic illness (i.e., recent surgery, tracheal collapse, laryngeal paralysis, recent vomiting or diarrhea, heart disease, etc.)
- Inadequate access to shade and/or hydration
- Extremely active dogs and working or hunting breeds, especially those undergoing long periods of exercise with no breaks or periods of rest
- Pets kept in enclosed areas with inadequate ventilation (i.e., cars, garages, etc.)
- High temperatures and high humidity, especially when there is a rapid change in the weather
Despite our best efforts, sometimes pets can experience heat stroke. If your pet is exhibiting the signs listed above, here are a few things you should do:
- Move your pet into a shaded and cool, preferably air-conditioned, environment and place a fan on him/her.
- If possible, take your pet’s rectal temperature and record it along with the time it was taken. Heat exhaustion can occur if a dog’s rectal temperature is between 103F and 106F; provide active cooling measures and contact your veterinarian. A temperature above 106F is a high risk for heat stroke; you should provide active cooling measures and seek veterinary care immediately.
- If possible, hose your pet down with cool to cold water. You can also place ice packs or cool, wet towels on the back of the neck, in the armpits, and in the groin area; if using towels, change them out frequently to ensure they remain cool.
- Wet the ear flaps and paw pads with cold water.
- Provide access to water, but do not force your pet to drink if they are unwilling or unable.
- Transport your pet to the closest veterinary facility immediately. Call ahead and let them know that you are on your way.
- Do not leave your pet unattended for any length of time until your pet is under the care of a veterinarian.