ginger cat in heat lying on tiles to cool down

Heat Stroke in Pets

Heat stroke might sound more like something pet owners over the pond in Top End Australia need to worry about. But Kiwi dogs and cats can also suffer heat stroke on hot summer days. And sometimes on quite mild days too.

With temperatures soaring as we head into December, here are the warning signs of heat stroke in pets, as well as what you can do to prevent it.

What is heat stroke?

Sometimes you’ll hear people referring to heat stroke as heat exhaustion or sun stroke. While heat exhaustion is very serious, heat stroke is considered a medical emergency. That said, they’re both caused by a pet getting too hot.

When humans get hot, we sweat to help regulate our temperatures. But dogs and cats don’t have sweat glands all over their bodies like we do. Instead, they have them only on their paws and their noses. Which means when it gets hot, your dog or cat can’t sweat to cool themselves down. So they’re more susceptible to heat stroke than we are.

Plus, they’re basically wrapped in a fur blanket all year round too. Which is also why pets with particularly thick coats might overheat more quickly – think Labradors or Huskies, for instance.

Essentially, exposure to heat causes your animal’s core temperature to rise too high. In dogs and cats, heat stroke is usually considered to be a temperature over 40.5 degrees. At this temperature, your pet’s at risk of death or serious damage to their organs, as well as seizures, and blood clots.

dogs in cars is a leading cause of heat stroke in pets

Signs and symptoms

What does a pet suffering from heat stroke look like? Animals are often quite good at hiding discomfort, and because pets can’t sweat when they’re hot, pet parents don’t always notice the signs.

Usually though, they’ll show signs of distress. These are generally the same for both dogs and cats, but may be more obvious in dogs.

Symptoms can include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Salivating
  • Rapid heartrate
  • Bright red gums or tongue
  • Dizziness, disorientation, or unsteadiness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Obvious discomfort
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Seizures

Keeping your pets safe

Heat stroke can happen much faster than you might think because pets can’t sweat. One of the main culprits is leaving pets inside hot cars. Even on a cool day, a closed car can get hot very quickly. Unfortunately, the danger is twofold because there’s normally nobody around to spot the signs of before they become serious.

So, one of the very first things you can do is vow to stop leaving your pets unattended in cars!

Secondly, it’s important to ensure your dogs and cats have adequate means to cool themselves when they’re at home or out and about. They rely mainly on external factors – and some panting – to cool themselves down, so need a bit of extra care. Especially when the days get hotter.

Here are some steps you can take to keep your pets safe:

  • Provide clean and cool drinking water at all times.
  • Ensure your pet has access to a cool and shaded area.
  • Don’t walk them, play with them, or spend time outside in the direct sun during the hottest times of the day.
  • Consider a pet cooling mat.
  • Don’t let them exert themselves in hot weather.

Heat stroke and pet health

Some purebred cats and dogs are more prone to heat stroke than others. Pugs and Pekingese, for example, are more likely to develop it on a hot day. This is largely because they have short noses so they aren’t able to cool themselves as efficiently. The same goes for flat-nosed cat breeds such as Persians.

On top of that, pet obesity can contribute to heat stroke in both dogs and cats. So it’s important to keep your pets trim and in good shape through maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime. Your vet can help you with this if you’re struggling to keep your dog or cat at a healthy weight.

This pet parent is training a cat to walk on a lead.

What do to if you suspect heat stroke

If you think your cat or dog has heat stroke, you should get to the vet immediately. Phone them to let them know you’re on your way so they can help as soon as you arrive.

While making your way there, do your best to cool your pet’s body. Do this by:

  • Placing cool, wet towels under their armpits and stomach.
  • Moving them to a cool area in your air conditioned vehicle.
  • Using cool water to wet the paws and inside of the ears.
  • Offer your pet cool water to drink.

In severe cases, your pet will need emergency treatment. This might involve administering IV fluids, monitoring them during a hospital stay and/or treating any damage caused by the heat stroke.

In cases like these, a pet insurance plan can help to cover costs, which quickly mount up. That way, you can focus on getting your pet better, not on worrying about what the bill will be.

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