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Hot Dogs and Cool Cats: Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses from Ruining Your Fun

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AERA Protecting dogs from heatstrokeSummer is quickly fading into fall, and you want to squeeze every last bit of fun from the remaining beautiful days. As you include your pet in your outdoor plans, don’t forget that temperatures can become sweltering during the fall months as well. As you pack cold water and sunscreen for your gang before heading to the Jersey Shore, or on a sweaty hike, keep in mind that your pet also requires special precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses during your adventures. At Animal Emergency & Referral Associates, our emergency team commonly treats heat exhaustion and heatstroke in pets who fall ill from the intense sun, heat, and humidity. Fortunately, these dangers are completely preventable. Read about how heat-related illnesses can affect your pet, and how forethought and planning can keep them safe and healthy. 


What is heat exhaustion in pets?

Heat exhaustion develops when your pet’s body temperature rises above their normal 100 to 102.5 degrees, in response to excessive activity, or prolonged exposure to high heat or humidity. As your pet’s temperature rises, they begin to feel sick, and may exhibit heat exhaustion signs, such as:

  • Excessive panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Lethargy
  • Incoordination, or stumbling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Monitor your pet closely any time they are out in hot weather, so you can detect heat exhaustion signs early, and respond quickly. 

What is heatstroke in pets?

Heatstroke is a more severe form of overheating, and occurs when your pet’s body temperature rises to dangerously high levels that can cause severe damage. Your pet’s increasing temperature can affect their sensitive internal organs, which can lead to organ failure, or death, in severe cases. If heat exhaustion progresses to heatstroke, your pet may develop signs such as:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Unconsciousness
  • Seizures

Heatstroke is life-threatening, and requires immediate action to save your pet’s life.

What situations put my pet in danger of overheating?

Pets can develop heatstroke any time they are exposed to high heat or humidity for prolonged periods. Although taking your pet to the beach with no shade, or on a grueling hike, can certainly put them in danger, heat-related illnesses can also develop in your own backyard. If you leave your pet outside, or confined to an inside area without air conditioning, for long periods on a hot day, they are at risk of overheating. 

Pets can also become too hot if they exercise in extreme heat or humidity. Taking your dog on a long lunchtime walk in the hot midday sun can be a recipe for disaster. Also, keep a close eye on your fun-loving pooch who loves to play fetch, or run the fence with your neighbor’s dog, as they may be so eager to play that they conceal early warning signs.

Which pets are at risk of overheating?

Any pet can overheat, but some pets are at higher risk of developing heat-related illnesses, including:

  • Brachycephalic breeds, such as bulldogs, pugs, shih tzus, and Persian catsAERA Heat and summer safety for tips
  • Older pets
  • Overweight pets
  • Debilitated pets
  • Pets with heart disease
  • Pets with breathing problems, such as laryngeal paralysis or collapsing trachea

Brachycephalic pets are at highest risk of overheating, because they cannot cool themselves efficiently in hot weather. Pets lack sweat glands, and cool themselves by panting, which allows moisture to evaporate from their mouth and nasal cavity surfaces. With their shorter muzzles, brachycephalic pets have significantly less surface area for evaporative cooling, so they overheat more readily. 

Pets at higher risk of overheating must be watched closely, and should go out only for short, supervised bathroom breaks on hot or humid days.

What should I do if my pet develops heat exhaustion or heatstroke signs?

If you notice heat exhaustion signs in your pet, immediate action is critical to cool them down, and prevent progression to heatstroke. Follow these steps to cool your pet:

  1. Take your pet out of the heat, and into an air-conditioned building.
  2. Place your pet into a sink or bathtub, and run cool—never cold—water over them. Cold water causes vasoconstriction, which will redirect your pet’s overheated blood to their delicate internal organs. Also, never place wet towels on your pet, as they will trap the heat. 
  3. Point a fan, if available, toward your pet, to enhance the cooling process via evaporation.
  4. Monitor your pet’s rectal temperature, remove them from the water when they reach 103 degrees, and dry them off, as continued cooling can drop their body temperature too low.
  5. If your pet does not improve in 10 minutes, or has more severe signs of heatstroke (e.g., unconsciousness, seizures), take them immediately to your primary care veterinarian, or to our 24/7 emergency department. After cooling your pet, although they may seem to have recovered, it is wise to take them to your veterinarian for immediate evaluation. Heatstroke can cause organ damage that may not become apparent until days later, when little can be done. Your veterinarian will evaluate your pet, and perform blood tests to assess their organ function, to determine if further treatment is necessary. 

How can I prevent heat-related illnesses in my pet?

To prevent a heat-related emergency, follow these tips to avoid situations that will expose your pet to high heat and humidity:

  • Provide shade and water — Whether your pet is playing in your backyard, or spending the afternoon at the beach, ensure they can escape the scorching sun in a shady spot, and they have plenty of fresh, cool water.
  • Limit time outdoors — Keep your pet’s playtime to a minimum during the midday heat, and let them lounge in the air conditioning until it cools down. Plan family outings that will involve your pet for the early morning or evening hours, or on cooler days.
  • Exercise in cooler weather — Plan your daily walk for the cooler morning or evening hours, to prevent your pet from overdoing it. Before you hit the road, place your hand on the pavement to ensure it’s not too hot for your pet’s paw pads.
  • Never leave your pet in a parked car — Your car’s interior can reach dangerously high temperatures in a short time on a sunny day. Leave your pet safely at home while you run errands, and bring them back a special treat for being such a good companion. 

We know you are looking forward to enjoying the remaining warm days with your pet. Keep a close eye on your furry pal, and call your family veterinarian, or AERA, at the first heat exhaustion sign.