Heat stroke is an emergency that requires immediate owner intervention and medical treatment. It occurs when an animal’s body temperature rises outside of a safe range. Preventing heat stroke in pets is especially important in the upcoming summer months, when pets have not only warmer temperatures to contend with, but furry bodies that help to trap the heat.
• Dark red gums
• Dry mucus membranes (specifically the gums)
• Lying down and unwilling (or unable) to get up
• Collapse and/or loss of consciousness
• Dizziness or disorientation
• Increased rectal temperature
Have you ever noticed how hot it can get inside your car on a summer day, even though it is not that hot outside? That’s because a car acts like a greenhouse, trapping the sun’s heat. A Stanford University test found that even if it’s only 72 degrees outside, a car’s internal temperature can rocket to 116 degrees within an hour. When it’s 85 degrees, the temperature inside the car increases to 102 degrees in 10 minutes, and 120 degrees in 20 minutes.
What is the emergency treatment?
If you suspect that your pet has heatstroke, you should first try to lower the body temperature by moving your pet to a cool area. Cooling procedures should begin before driving to the vet. You can soak your pet with cold water, but don’t use ice-cold water, as it may worsen things. If available, use a fan, as it will cool your pet down more quickly.
Call your vet or an emergency clinic, and take your pet there as quickly and safely as possible. It is important to call the clinic ahead of time so that the staff can be prepared by the time you arrive. If your pet is alert enough, offer small amounts of water or ice cubes. Stop cooling measures when your pet reaches 103 degrees, or your pet may actually become too cold. At the vet, similar measures will be taken. In addition, lots of IV fluids are given.
Certain medical conditions put dogs and cats at greater risk of heat stroke. Do not expose dogs and cats with the following conditions to prolonged heat:
• Airway disease
• Heart disease
• Impaired breathing
• Short-nosed cat breeds such as Persians and Himalayans
• Short-nosed dog breeds such as Pugs and Bulldogs
Can I prevent heat stroke in my pet?
Absolutely. There are some simple, common-sense steps you can take to prevent heat stroke. On hot, humid days, keep your pets indoors, except to eliminate. If they must be outside, provide plenty of shade and fresh water. Make sure that your pet can’t spill the water source. Or use several bowls in different places. Add ice cubes to the water bowl to keep water cooler longer. Let your pet play in a cool water “bath” or a kiddy pool. Plan ahead and make sure the shade will still be available as the sun changes.
Never leave a pet unattended in a parked car, even for “just a minute.” Leaving the windows partially rolled down will not help. Limit outdoor activity to the early morning and late evening, when temperatures are somewhat lower. Carry water with you when walking your dog.
Notice any heavy panting, loss of energy, weakness, stumbling, or any of the signs listed above. If your pet seems to suffer from the heat, stop in a shaded area and give some fresh water. If things don’t improve quickly, take your pet to your vet.
• Remove your pet from the hot area
• Call your veterinarian immediately
• Lower your pet’s temperature by wetting him thoroughly with room temperature water, then increase air movement around him with a fan. When the rectal temperature drops to 103.5°F, stop all cooling efforts.
CAUTION: Using very cold water or cold water-soaked blankets can actually be counterproductive. Cooling too quickly and especially allowing your pet’s body temperature to become too low can cause other life-threatening medical conditions.