The most common heat-related illness we encounter as veterinarians is heatstroke. Heatstroke occurs when the body’s core temperature rises to a high level, inciting inflammation and organ failure.
Dogs and cats dissipate heat through their skin and through evaporation from their respiratory tract via panting. They cannot sweat in the same way we do. Humidity makes heat loss through evaporation even more difficult, so humid days can be especially dangerous.
How to keep your pet cool:
- Never leave your pet alone in the car – a car can reach up to 120-140 degrees in the sun in a very short time.
- Always carry an extra bottle of water for your pet, whether you are on a walk or taking a short trip in the car.
- Do not exercise your pet during the heat of the day – try for early morning or evening.
- If you are enjoying an outdoor summer day at the beach or barbeque, always provide shade for your pet.
- Be extra careful with older, ill and overweight animals in hot weather as they are very sensitive to heat.
- Certain breeds, termed brachycephalic (short-headed), are at greater risk for heat-related illness. Brachycephalic breeds include French bulldogs, English bulldogs and pugs, among others. These breeds should be exercised with extreme caution. A simple walk around the block may cause their temperature to rise to dangerous or even life-threatening levels. Keep them in cool, air-conditioned areas on hot days.
- Additional trips to the groomer can avoid overheating for some animals with a thick coat of fur. Give them a short cut, but don’t shave them as this can increase the risk of sunburn.
- Be aware and very careful of hot pavement; it can burn your dog or cat’s paw pads.
- Bring a handheld fan with you to direct toward your pet if your pet seems to be getting hot.
What to do if your pet becomes overheated
If your cat or dog does become overheated, spray your pet down with room temperature or cool water, but never ice water. Ice-cold water causes a decrease in blood flow to the skin, and heat can’t escape the body, which makes heat exhaustion symptoms worse. Alternatively, you can wrap the feet of your pet in wet towels to help bring your pet’s temperature down. Once your pet stops panting, be careful not to overcool, as this can be equally dangerous to your vulnerable pet.
Also, be sure not to give sports drinks or electrolyte supplements to pets, which can actually harm animals and make pets sick.
Lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and dark red gums are all signs of heat-related distress. If your pet is panting uncontrollably or collapses, take him to your veterinarian or nearest emergency veterinary hospital immediately.
With a little planning, you can make the most of your summer days and keep your pet safe from the heat all season long.