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How can I prevent heatstroke in my pet?

After a long, cold winter, you’re likely ready to head outdoors for some fun in the sun. But, your adventure may be cut short if your pet develops heatstroke. Know common signs of heatstroke and take preventive measures to keep your pet cool through the dog days of summer.

What is heatstroke in pets?

Heatstroke, also known as overheating or heat exhaustion, occurs when your pet’s body temperature rises above the normal range of 100 to 102.2 degrees. Dogs and cats have few sweat glands and cannot cool off by sweating like humans, so they overheat more easily. Pets mainly cool off by panting, as moisture evaporation from the oral cavity helps lower body temperature. Heatstroke most commonly occurs when pets are left outside on hot days, but also can develop if:

  • There is high humidity, even if the temperature is lower
  • Your pet doesn’t take breaks from playing to cool off
  • Your pet doesn’t have adequate access to water in warm temperatures
  • Your pet is left in a closed-up house on a hot day with no ventilation or air conditioning
  • Your pet is left inside a car, even if it does not seem hot outside

Heatstroke is a dangerous health condition that can cause death if warning signs are not recognized immediately.

What are heatstroke signs in pets?

As you enjoy a game of fetch or frisbee with your pooch, keep a close eye on her for overheating signs, such as:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea, with or without blood
  • Weakness
  • Incoordination or stumbling
  • Sudden collapse
  • Seizures

Act immediately if your pet displays any of these signs. Once your pet begins to overheat, heatstroke progresses quickly.

Are some animals more likely to develop heatstroke than others?

Any animal can develop heatstroke, but brachycephalic breeds that have short muzzles, such as bulldogs and pugs, are more at risk because they are less efficient at eliminating heat by panting. Overweight pets, elderly animals, and those with heart and lung disease also have an increased risk. These pets should never be left outside in the heat and should stay indoors with air conditioning during the summer.

What should I do if my pet shows heatstroke signs?

If your pet exhibits mild heatstroke signs, such as panting or vomiting, take her inside and offer her a drink of cool—not cold—water. Take her rectal temperature with a digital thermometer; if it is above 102.2 degrees, cover her in towels soaked in lukewarm water. You also can wipe rubbing alcohol on her paw pads. Take care to cool your pet down gradually—don’t place her into cold water or put cold water on her, as this can cause dangerous blood pressure changes.

Your pet’s body temperature should decrease, and she should begin to improve in 10 minutes. Stop cooling her when her body temperature reaches 102.5 degrees to prevent her from becoming too cold, as her temperature will continue to drop.

If your pet’s condition does not improve in 10 minutes, take her to the nearest AAHA-accredited veterinarian immediately for advanced support, such as intravenous fluids, blood pressure maintenance, or other medications.

Ways to prevent heatstroke

Consider the possibility of heatstroke any time the temperature is above 80 degrees or humidity is high, and take these precautions to keep your pet cool:

  • Never leave your pet unsupervised outside on hot days. While you are away, keep your pet indoors with air conditioning.
  • While outside, ensure your pet has access to fresh water, shade, and shelter away from direct sunlight.
  • Take your daily walk or jog in the morning, before temperatures reach dangerous levels.
  • Never leave your pet alone in a parked car. Heat quickly builds to deadly levels in a closed car, even on sunny days that aren’t hot.
  • On hot days, keep brachycephalic breeds, elderly and obese pets, and those with heart or lung disease inside your air-conditioned home except for short outdoor bathroom breaks.