A dog outside panting.

Pet heat stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency that affects all pets regardless of age, species or breed. The symptoms are most common when the weather is hot and humid, but can also result from strenuous over-exertion or confinement in tight spaces (like a parked car). This means that even though the season’s changing from summer to fall, pets remain at risk. Prevention is definitely the key, but immediate recognition and treatment are critical toward a positive outcome.

Taking Stock

Pet heat stroke happens when the body cannot regulate body temperature. Impacting the entire body, pet heat stroke can damage the nervous system, alter normal cellular and enzymatic functions, injure the tissue, and collapse circulation. Left alone, internal temperatures hovering over 106 degrees can result in fatality.

As mentioned, all animals can suffer from heat stroke, but some pets, like those with short muzzles, the young and senior pets, and those with other health issues are more prone.

The Types

Heat stroke most commonly occurs as a result of overexertion, especially when the animal is not accustomed to the level of activity they are engaging in. Avoiding excessive exercise and increasing hydration are the best defenses against the effects of the sun. Cool, shady areas are vital for pets to rest in, drink fresh water, and recharge in a breeze.

When a pet is stuck inside a small space, like a car, without a breeze or water, temperatures can skyrocket to dangerous degrees. Pets left unattended in parked vehicles is the leading cause of heat-related pet death every summer.

Clinical Signs

Heat stroke in animals can be determined by the type and severity of of symptoms. Dogs pant to cool themselves down, but they can also sweat (however ineffectively) through their paw pads. When the body’s temperature gets too high and the animal cannot efficiently dissipate heat, they are at real risk of developing life-threatening symptoms.

Symptoms of Pet Heat Stroke

Depending on an pet’s exposure to the elements, or the type of exercise, early signs of heat stroke usually include:

  • Panting and rapid breathing that won’t slow down even after a rest
  • Heart rate increase
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sticky or tacky gums
  • Bright red gums
  • Disorientation
  • Drooling or excessive salivation

As the situation becomes more dire, pets can suffer collapse, seizures, depression, organ failure and decreased mental function. If this happens, please seek immediate veterinary attention.

Do Not Shock

While it’s critical to bring down the core body temperature, doing so too quickly can actually shock an animal’s delicate systems. Lukewarm compresses— not ice water— applied to the groin, underarms, abdomen, neck, and back are effective. Cool the pet via evaporation and place a fan nearby.

Always Watch

It’s important not to let your guard down as we approach the cooler days. Being proactive is necessary to prevent pet heat stroke, no matter the season. As always, if we can assist you with any questions or concerns regarding your pet’s health, wellness, and happiness, please give us a call.