When coming into the hotter months it pays to understand the signs of heatstroke in your animals. All animals and pets, dogs, cats, and small animals (rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.), can suffer from excessive heat and can easily succumb to the condition. Unlike humans our canine and feline friends can only expel excess heat through painting with a few sweat glands around their feet and noses. They do not have a similar cooling system that we do; our sweat glands are located all over our bodies which cool us and dispel excessive heat. So, while we may not be feeling very hot, our furry buddies may not be having a great time.
The unfortunate thing about heat stroke in animals is that many pet parents are not aware of what is happening. They may think their dog or cat is simply tired and needs a rest, when in actual fact they need immediate medical care. You need to be aware of the signs, and avoid the problem before it turns into an emergency veterinary visit. Luckily, there are many things that we can do as pet owners to keep our animals cool and comfortable in hot weather.
It’s important to note that while heat stroke is more common in the warmer months, dogs and cats can suffer from this condition at any time of the year. As a pet owner you must consider your pets comfort whenever you’re outside with them.
Heatstroke in dogs
Heat stroke is the colloquial name for a state of hyperthermia; where the core body temperature is elevated higher than the usual range. It is caused when the body cannot expel excessive heat fast enough and maintain the appropriate temperature levels. This in turn heats up their internal organs and they’ll start to malfunction, become damaged, and ultimately fail.
All animals can suffer from this condition, and it is up to their owners to keep a careful watch to make sure they’re not suffering. Luckily heat stroke is reasonably easy to avoid, and taking early steps to ensure the comfort of your pets is the best way to prevent the condition.
Symptoms of heat stroke in dogs
If you’ve spent a reasonable amount of time with your pet, then you’ll know what their usual behaviour looks like. This is key to determining if something is wrong and you need to take further steps to help cool your pet down.
The first symptom you should look for is excessive panting. Panting is the most common way that a dog will try to cool itself down. The next is trying to submerge themselves in water, but that is usually not readily available for your pet. You may also look out for drooling, vomiting, incoordination, diarrhoea, reddened gums, and collapsing; if you see any of these your dog needs immediate medical attention.
How to treat heat stroke in dogs
Taking the steps required to prevent heat stroke in your dog is the best way to treat it. If the day is going to be hot, make sure your dog has somewhere cool to be. This can be a shady area, or even inside enjoying the air conditioning. Give them access to plenty of cool water to drink, and possibly a shallow pool of water for them to relax in; a child’s ‘clam shell pool’ is perfect for this as it has a sturdy base and it’s not too deep.
Avoid exercising your dog in the hottest part of the day, choose either the very early morning, or the twilight hours. You should avoid walking on pavement, asphalt, and hot sand as this can potentially burn their feet; you can buy dog shoes, but it is easier to find a grassy patch to walk on.
If you have passed the prevention stage, and your dog is suffering from the early stages of heat stroke you can try to cool them down. But it is ideal they are taken to a vet for proper treatment. These steps should be followed as you’re making your way to the vet for treatment:
Start by making changes to their environment to slowly lower their body temperature.
Use a wet towel and place it over them, then use a fan so they have the benefits of evaporative cooling. When you’re driving to the vet, make sure your cars air conditioning is on.
Never use an iced bath to cool them down. Rapid cooling such as this will actually raise their core body temperature further.
If you can’t get to your regular vet, use one of the many emergency vets available.
Heat exhaustion in cats
Just like dogs, cats can easily overheat in hot weather. They can only release excessive heat through sweat glands in their paws and by panting. Cats have a tendency not to seek help when they are suffering, instead they’ll often find a place to hide. It’s best to monitor the temperature in your home and have some cool places that your cat can go and relax. Some of the contributing factors for heat exhaustion in cats are:
- Lack of fresh drinking water
- Anxiety or stress
- High household (and outdoor) temperatures
- Lack of available shade
- An environment of reduced airflow (vehicles, garages, etc.)
Usually, the first sign of heat exhaustion in your cat is they’ll leave wet footprints. This is an indication they are sweating through their paws and need to rehydrate. However, you should never try to forcibly give your cat water, you can refill their drinking water with cool fresh water and leave them to it. Monitor them from a distance looking for any further symptoms.
How can you help your cat in heat?
Cats can handle heat a little better than people, but in the right (or wrong) conditions they can suffer from the heat. For the best way to protect your cat from any complications caused by heat exhaustion you can follow this guide:
- Cool your cat down with a damp cloth. Put the cloth in your hand and gently pat them like you normally would. The cloth will act as a heat sink and draw it away from your cat.
- Keep them groom. This is especially important for long haired animals. Excessive hair can easily trap heat and become a problem, keeping your cat groomed removes any extra hair and stops matts from forming.
- Keep a fan or the air conditioning on. If you’re not home during the hottest part of the day, you can keep a small fan (or the air conditioning) to help them remain comfortable.
- Shut blinds in the house. Having your windows covered will help keep the heat out of the home during the day and provide a comfortable space for your cat to be.
- Allow them to roan inside. Cats will naturally seek out the coolest place to sleep, this may include unusual areas like bathrooms and other tiled places. Giving them unfettered access to your home gives them the choice to find the most suitable area to cool down.
If you do notice that your cat, or any cat you’re looking after, is acting stressed or unusual, you can call on your vet and they’ll advise you on what steps you need to do. Heat exhaustion is a very serious condition and treatment needs to be sought at the first signs.