Heatstroke in our Pets:
As temperatures soar, a common issue that all caring pet owners should be aware of is heatstroke (also known as heat stress). With the heat of the summer months, the number of cats and dogs visiting the vet due to this condition rises. Unfortunately many pet owners do not even realise that their cats and dogs can overheat when the weather is hot, and may only seek treatment at the eleventh hour. While heat stress is more common in warmer months, it can occur at any time throughout the year even when the weather is mild. Cats and dogs cannot respond to heat in the same way that us humans do. We have sweat glands all over our bodies that help us regulate our temperature, but dogs and cats only have a few in their feet and around their noses. Many animals rely on panting and external cooling to lose heat. Their long thick hair coats can also predispose them to heat stroke. Because they’re not able to cool themselves down as easily as us, we have to be extra careful to provide them with a cool, well-ventilated and shaded environment with access to clean fresh drinking water. Pets are very susceptible to heat stroke – and it can happen a lot faster than you may think.
What are the main predisposing factors for Heatstroke?
Heatstroke is a state of hyperthermia (elevated core body temperature above the normal range) resulting in heat injury to tissues. Heatstroke occurs when heat generation exceeds the body’s ability to lose heat.
- A warm/hot, humid environment with inadequate ventilation
(e.g. due to weather conditions or animals being left in an unventilated room or car)
- Inadequate shade
- Inadequate drinking water
- Excessive exercise
HEATSTROKE IS A VERY SERIOUS, LIFE THREATENING CONDITION: IT CAN CAUSE DAMAGE TO YOUR PET’S INTERNAL ORGANS, SOMETIMES TO THE POINT WHERE THEY STOP FUNCTIONING AND CAN BE RAPIDLY FATAL – IT REQUIRES URGENT TREATMENT.
The good news is that you can help to prevent heatstroke by ensuring your pets are kept in appropriate environmental conditions and being aware of the symptoms so action can be taken swiftly. Help your best friend keep their cool and enjoy Summer with a bit of knowledge and a backup plan. As long as you take into consideration the following rules, both you and your pet can enjoy the Summer safely:
- Have a cool, well-ventilated space for your pet. Good ventilation is critical because many animals lose heat by panting (evaporative cooling) which relies on good air flow. Outdoor pets should also always have access to shade.All pets should have access to plenty of fresh clean drinking water at all times.
- Never leave your pet in a car as temperatures rise extremely quickly even on mild temperature days and can kill pets rapidly.
- Avoid exercising animals in hot weather.Avoid hot sand, concrete, asphalt areas or any other areas where heat is reflected and there is no access to shade.
- Be aware of the symptoms and look out for the signs in your pet.
* Panting which increases as heatstroke progresses
* Drooling, salivating
* Agitation, restlessness
* Very red or pale gums
* Bright red tongue
* Increased heart rate
* Breathing distress
* Diarrhea (possibly with blood)
* Signs of mental confusion, delirium
* Dizziness, staggering
* Lethargy, weakness
* Muscle tremors
* Collapsing and lying down
* Little to no urine production
If you suspect your pet has heatstroke or they are showing signs of heatstroke:
Know how to do Emergency First Aid at home if you suspect your pet has heatstroke. Initial emergency treatment at home should aim to normalise body temperature.
- Remove your pet from the hot environment immediately.
- Apply or spray tepid/cool water onto the animal’s fur and skin.
- Then apply a fan/fanning to maximise heat loss.
- Wetting down the area around your pet can also help.
- Don’t use ice-cold water or ice as this may worsen the problem.
- Then take your pet to the nearest Veterinarian immediately.
- Heatstroke is an emergency – always see a vet. Even if your pet looks like they may be recovering or you just suspect they might have heatstroke they should still always be checked by a vet.
- Putting your pet on a drip (intravenous fluids)
- Cooling treatments e.g. cooling enemas
- Supplemental oxygen
- Medication as required
- Blood tests to check organ function
- Ongoing monitoring and treatment as required
What are other predisposing factors for heatstroke?
** NOTE ** All animals are susceptible to heatstroke so owners need to make sure that they take active steps to prevent it. However, some other reported predisposing factors can include:
- Brachycephalic anatomy (flat-faced breeds) such as Pugs, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, Persian and Himalayan cats, among others
- Breathing difficulties/respiratory disease – laryngeal paralysis, collapsing trachea
- Heart problems/Cardiovascular disease
- Neurological disease
- Age extremes (young or old)
- Thick/long hair coat – e.g. long haired breeds
- Excessive exercise