Each summer, too many pets suffer from heat exhaustion and heatstroke, including some pets who have experienced overheating in the past. Once a pet has had heatstroke, they are much more susceptible to overheating again, so proper precautions are critical for keeping your best friend cool and safe this summer. Fortunately, we have plenty of tips that will help your pet beat the heat, and safely soak in the summer sunshine.

Risk factors of heatstroke in pets

While heatstroke can strike any pet, some are more likely to overheat—particularly those who demonstrate at least one of the following characteristics:

  • Pediatric or geriatric status
  • Thick double coat
  • Flat face
  • Obesity
  • Respiratory or heart conditions

Flat-faced breeds, such as bulldogs, boxers, and Persians, are at a higher risk of developing heatstroke in cooler temperatures, too. Dogs cool themselves mostly through panting, and flat-faced breeds cannot pant enough to cool down. Cats rarely pant, except in extreme heat, and instead rely mostly on sweat evaporation from their paw pads, which makes the thick-coated, flat-faced Persian most at risk for heatstroke. If your furry pal exhibits any characteristics that can increase heatstroke potential, monitor your pet carefully for overheating signs when outdoors.

Signs of heatstroke in pets

Dogs pant all the time, including in cool temperatures, so panting is not always the most obvious heatstroke sign. However, you must begin cooling your pooch if you notice them panting excessively, and exhibiting any of the following  signs:

  • Thick, ropy drool
  • Dark red gums
  • Lack of coordination, or staggering
  • Inability to focus or follow simple commands
  • Muscle tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Seizures

Cats suffering from heatstroke can display the same signs as dogs, and immediate action should be taken to appropriately cool your pet at the first hint of heatstroke.

How to properly cool your pet at home

Pets can experience a heatstroke episode when temperatures are as low as 70 degrees, so keep a sharp eye on your furry pal when playing and exercising outdoors. At the first sign of excessive panting, drooling, or dizziness, bring your pet into an air-conditioned building. Ideally, your bathroom will be cool and well-ventilated, with a tub large enough for your pet. To cool your pet properly:

  • Point a fan at your pet
  • Run cool, not cold, water over your pet, to encourage heat dissipation, always keeping their head above water if they lose consciousness
  • Monitor your pet’s temperature, and stop the cooling process once it reaches 103 degrees, to prevent excessive cooling
  • Do not wrap your pet in wet towels, since they trap heat
  • Avoid ice packs and applying rubbing alcohol to the paws, which constrict blood vessels, shunting overheated blood back to the main body, and increasing the core temperature

Once your pet’s temperature has reached 103 degrees, rush your four-legged friend to your family veterinarian, or to our Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center, for a thorough exam and workup, to check for hidden damage. 

Why a veterinary exam is crucial after a heatstroke episode

After your pet has experienced a heatstroke, a veterinary visit must be scheduled for a comprehensive exam and diagnostic testing, whether it’s with your family veterinarian or our team. You may have sufficiently cooled your pet at home, and no longer see any heatstroke signs, but your beloved companion can have hidden issues from overheating. Pets who have experienced a heatstroke may develop the following conditions, which can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian and laboratory tests:

  • Clotting problems
  • Kidney or liver failure
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Gastric ulcers
  • Heart issues

A heatstroke has far-reaching effects, and can negatively impact every one of your pet’s body systems. Organ dysfunction and other problems may not appear immediately, and future testing may be necessary to monitor your pet’s health.

How to prevent your pet from overheating

With proper prevention, you can keep your furry pal safe from a heatstroke episode, and still enjoy the summer weather. Follow these tips to keep your fluffy friend cool and comfortable:

  • Always provide plenty of fresh, cool water
  • Ensure your pet has adequate ventilation and shade
  • Exercise outdoors during the coolest parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening
  • Avoid hot pavement, and stick to grass or dirt, when walking your dog
  • Groom your pet properly, to avoid matting, and encourage natural thermoregulation
  • Know your pet’s limits, and stop a game of fetch or other activity if you notice your pet overheating

At the first hint of heatstroke in your furry pal, contact us immediately. We will guide you through the appropriate steps to begin the cooling process at home, and suggest the correct time to head to our animal emergency hospital for further support. Remember, your pet may appear to have recovered well from a heat exhaustion or heatstroke episode, but organ damage can be hidden, warranting a comprehensive veterinary exam. Don’t wait—call us for help if your best friend overheats.