Heat Exhaustion in Pets

Summertime in Texas is fun but unforgiving, particularly due to the high temperatures and humidity. High temperatures can put you and your furbaby at risk for heat exhaustion. Other heat related illnesses include heat stroke, dehydration, sunburn, and foot pad burns. However, with a little knowledge and preparation, you can help prevent heat exhaustion in your furbabies.

What is Heat Exhaustion?

Heat exhaustion, or hyperthermia, is when your pet’s body temperature exceeds a healthy range. They become unable to regulate their own body heat. This condition ranges from mild heat exhaustion, which can be treated at home, to severe heatstroke, which can lead to loss of consciousness, organ failure, or even death. Dogs and cats primarily pant rather than sweat, making them more susceptible to heat exhaustion than humans.

Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. Both are very dangerous for any pet. Heat exhaustion is generally the early stages when a pet begins to overheat; heat stroke is the unhealthy point at which your pet cannot safely lower their body temperature.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Rapid panting
  • Body temperature in excess of 104 degrees
  • Rapid pulse or heartbeat
  • Bright red skin or ears
  • Bright red tongue
  • Red or pale gums
  • Thick, sticky saliva
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive thirst
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Vomiting – sometimes with blood
  • Diarrhea
  • Shock
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Body temperature of cats and dogs range from 100 – 102.5 degrees. Therefore, any temperature in excess of 102.5 degrees is cause for concern. Any pet that cannot cool themselves off is at risk for heat exhaustion. However, some pets with preexisting health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, old age, and breathing problems are at higher risk of heat exhaustion. Even normal activities in intense heat can be harmful for these animals. Dogs with shorter snouts, like Pugs and English Bulldogs, have a harder time panting to cool themselves when overheated. These breeds, along with French Bulldogs, Shih Tzhus, Saint Bernards, and Boxers do not tolerate heat well.

Treatment for Heat Related Illness

If you suspect your pet if suffering from heat stroke, begin the cooling process immediately. This should always be done before going to the vet.

Remove them from the heat immediately and relocate them to a cool area. Wet them with room temperature or cool water, and use a fan if possible to cool them more quickly. Never use ice cold water as this can cause more harm. Allow them free access to water but do not force them to drink as they might inhale it or choke.

If possible, check your pet’s body temperature frequently. When their body temperature reaches 103 degrees cease the cooling process. Call your vet or emergency clinic as soon as possible, and take them to get checked out. Even if they seem to be recovering, further monitoring is necessary to ensure proper hydration, organ function, respiratory wellness and prevent shock.

Ways to Prevent Heat Exhaustion

  1. Don’t let your pet linger on hot surfaces like cement or asphalt. This is an invitation for paw pad burns, and being so close to the ground can increase their body temperature.
  2. A light-weight summer cut can help keep them from overheating, but never shave your dog in the summer. They require at least an inch of hair to keep from getting sunburns.
  3. Provide access to plenty of shade and cool water anytime they are outdoors.
  4. Restrict exercise during the hottest times of the day. Walks and exercise should be done in the early morning hours or late evening when air and surface temperatures are at their coolest. Only allow for potty breaks during the day.
  5. Keep your home cool. Though you might be tempted to turn off the AC whilst you’re at work, remember that pets need to be kept cool at all times. Fans can help keep your furbabies cool while saving money on your gas or electricity bills.
  6. Provide them with a pool or sprinkler to keep them cool. Remember to always supervise water-time play to prevent any accidents.
  7. Board your pets during summer vacations. You might be tempted to leave your pet home and hire a pet sitter but this can be risky in the event of a power outage. Indoor boarding facilities are the safest and coolest option for your pet in the summer.
  8. Never leave your pet in a parked car. Even in the shade for short periods of time temperatures inside a vehicle can exceed 140 degrees in minutes.

Heat stroke is no joke! However, common sense and a proactive mindset could save your furbaby’s life. If you see a child or a pet locked in a car, call the authorities immediately. It’s better to be safe than sorry.  Spread the word about heat safety. Use weather apps to check temperatures at all times.  The heat of summer can be fun – all it takes is a little extra care and attention.