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How to Prevent Heatstroke in Dogs and Cats

It’s one thing to offer cuddles and kisses to our fur babies, but to really express the love you have for your pets, you must always be aware of what health issues may affect them. Soaring temperatures means a rise in a common issue that all pet owners should take note of – heatstroke. 

Many pet owners don’t even realize that their pet may be at risk of overheating in the warmer weather, causing them to seek out treatment at the last minute. As you know, prevention is better than cure, but when you can’t prevent overheating then the next best option is to act fast, administer emergency aid, then get your pet to the vet immediately. 

What Is Heatstroke?

Heatstroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It’s a state of elevated core body temperature above the normal range. It results in heat injury to tissues and occurs when heat generation exceeds the body’s ability to lose heat. 

Dogs and cats don’t respond to heat the way humans do. Sweat glands all over our body allow us to regulate our body temperatures easily, whereas dogs and cats only have a few of these in their feet and around their noses, making it more difficult. Many pets rely on panting or external cooling to lose heat. 

Heatstroke vs Heat Exhaustion in Pets

Heat Exhaustion: In cases of heat exhaustion, or hyperthermia, the heat stress is extreme. Your pet may be very weak, panting heavily, excessively thirsty, and have difficulty walking and moving around. They may even collapse or faint. 

Heatstroke: Oftentimes, heat exhaustion, if improperly or not at all treated, will eventually lead to heatstroke, a more extreme form of hyperthermia. This occurs when your pet’s body temperature rises above the normal range of 100 to 102.2 degrees and can lead to organ failure and death. 

What Causes Heatstroke in Dogs and Cats?

The number one cause of heatstroke is leaving your pets in the car without enough air circulation. Dogs are especially vulnerable. Since they release heat through panting, inadequate ventilation is enough to get them overheated. Of course, rising temperatures and humid environments can contribute as well. Other factors that can lead to heatstroke include:

  • Inadequate access to water in warm environments 
  • High humidity, even if the temperature is lower
  • No access to shade for outdoor pets
  • Excessive movement or exercise in hot weather 
  • Hot sand, concrete, asphalt, and other heat reflecting areas (especially those with little or no access to shade)
  • Confinement to a poorly ventilated area, like a dog house
  • Obesity 
  • Infection causing a fever
  • Young and old age in dogs 
  • Wearing a muzzle 
  • Brachycephalic breeds are more likely to experience heat stroke even in moderate weather conditions

Signs and Symptoms 

Keep a close eye on your pet for overheating signs, such as:

  • Excessive panting 
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Sudden Collapse
  • Stumbling or difficulty walking and moving around 
  • Seizures
  • Agitation / restlessness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Dehydration
  • Dry Nose 
  • Confusion / dizziness / delirium 
  • Elevated body temperature 
  • Muscle tremors
  • Little to no urine production
  • Coma 
  • Death

Heatstroke is very serious and can lead to internal organ failure and death. It requires urgent treatment. Act immediately if your pet experiences any of these signs or symptoms and you believe they may be at risk. Heatstroke progresses extremely quickly once your pet begins to overheat. 

What’s the Emergency Treatment for Heatstroke in Pets?

If you suspect your pet may be suffering from heatstroke, the first thing you should do is administer emergency aid yourself. Cooling procedures should begin before driving to the vet. 

Move your pet to a cool area and wet their coat with water but avoid soaking their fur. The problem with soaking them completely is that it usually leads to over cooling which makes things worse. Use a fan to cool them down, and place wet towels underneath them. 

Call your vet ahead of time so the staff can be prepared by the time you arrive, and take your pet there as quickly and safely as possible. At the vet, similar measures will be taken. In addition, the vet will give your dog lots of IV fluids. 

How do Veterinarians Help With Heatstroke? 

Our veterinarians are trained to assess the severity of the heatstroke and provide the necessary emergency medical care as required. They’ll check your pets temperature and vitals, and then administer treatment which can be a number of things including:

  • Intravenous fluid therapy to replace fluids and minerals (putting your pet on a drip)
  • Cooling treatments (e.x 
  • Required medication 
  • Supplemental oxygen
  • Blood tests to check organ function
  • Ongoing treatment as required
  • Ongoing monitoring as required (to be sure your pet doesn’t display kidney failure, development of neurologic symptoms, abnormal clotting, changes in blood pressure and electrolytes abnormalities)

If your pet is showing any signs of heat stroke, contact our Las Vegas veterinary hospital right away. 

Need to schedule an appointment? We offer real-time online booking. You can view our schedule here.

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