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Heatstroke in Pets: Prevent, Recognize, and Intervene Immediately

Dog Sitting on Bench Next to LeashThe risks of heatstroke in pets are very real. Symptoms don’t always stem from over-exertion on a hot day. Instead, the prime culprit is usually plain and simple dehydration. Pets sweat a little bit through their noses and paw pads, but in an attempt to regulate internal body temperature, they pant. If access to shade and cool, clean water is restricted, organ dysfunction and even failure can occur on a hot and humid day. Prevention must remain a top priority, but being able to recognize the signs and know how to help are equally important.

The Basics

Heatstroke in pets, or hyperthermia, is characterized by an internal temperature greater than 103 degrees. Overexposure to environmental heat can lead to internal temperatures of 109 degrees, multiple organ failure, and even death.

Potential Causes

As we said, dehydration is to blame for most cases of heatstroke in pets. The following are also well-known causes:

  • Inadequate ventilation, such as the inside of a parked car, a garage, doghouse, or sun-filled room, can quickly elevate a pet’s temperature.
  • Excessive exercise during peak hours can trigger symptoms, especially if a pet does not have water or shade.
  • Restricted airways in flat-faced breeds (pugs, bulldogs, boxers, etc.) can cause labored breathing and an inability to effectively cool down.

All pets are at risk, but young animals, seniors, obese pets, and those suffering from other medical conditions deserve careful consideration in the heat and humidity.

Know What to Look for

If you notice excessive panting (especially when your pet hasn’t been exercising), it’s time to get them to a cool, shaded area. Other signs include:

  • Bright red tongue
  • Red or pale gums
  • Drooling; thick, sticky saliva
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased urination
  • Seizures
  • Muscle tremors
  • Shock
  • Coma

Swift Intervention

Don’t take any chances when it comes to heatstroke in pets. An animal’s body temperature must be reduced, but it must be done in a slow, controlled manner. Cooling your pet down too quickly can cause other problems. Never use ice.

Spray or apply rags soaked in tepid water to the head, abdomen, underarms, and feet. Take a rectal temperature every few minutes. Once 103 degrees is reached, your pet should be thoroughly dried off and covered. We urge you to bring them in to see us so we can ascertain the extent of the injuries from dehydration.

Intravenous fluids and oxygen may be administered, as well as diagnostic tests for shock, respiratory distress, kidney failure, heart issues, and other complications.

Heatstroke in Pets

Our veterinarians and staff members hope you and your pet have a safe, enjoyable summer. Please call us with any questions, and never hesitate to seek emergency care for your pet.

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