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Everything Pet Owners Need to Know About Heatstroke

Pet Tips

Woman walking dog on a leash on the beach

The summer heat and humidity can cause more than discomfort for your four-legged companion. Pets are susceptible to heatstroke, which can be life-threatening, especially if not addressed promptly. Our team at Animal Health Care of Marlboro asked Patty the pug to report on what pet owners should know about this concerning issue, to help you safeguard your pet. Patty the pug: “Reporting live from a hot backyard in Englishtown, New Jersey, this is Patty the pug. Now that summer is here, I am reminding you that pets do not tolerate heat well, and some pets are more prone to heatstroke than others. Any time the temperature gets higher than 80 degrees, or if the day is humid, you should keep a close eye on your pet. The temperature here is currently 90 degrees, and my thoughtful owner has provided a kiddie pool for me to relax in to beat the heat.” Animal Health Care of Marlboro: Sweating is an efficient way to cool your body, but pets do not have this luxury. They possess a few sweat glands, but they rely primarily on panting and external factors to cool themselves. As air moves over their tongue and the soft tissues in their mouth, evaporation occurs, resulting in cooling. When ambient temperatures are high, this method is not effective enough to decrease your pet’s body temperature. Keeping them inside an air-conditioned home, or providing a pool or water sprinkler if they are outside, can help prevent overheating. Brachycephalic breeds, such as pugs, bulldogs, and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heatstroke. Their facial structure does not allow for adequate air movement, which decreases the cooling effect when they pant. Geriatric pets, overweight pets, and those affected by a preexisting illness, especially cardiac and respiratory issues, are also at greater risk.  Patty: “The humidity is building here, and while I am cool in my little pool, my neighbor, Bailey the boxer, has been out for hours now, and does not have any shade or way to cool off. I am worried that his temperature may be getting too high. Normal temperature for pets is 99.5 degrees to 102.5 degrees. Temperatures higher than 103 degrees are concerning, and heatstroke is likely when temperatures get higher than 105 degrees. Heatstroke is a serious medical emergency in pets, and I sure hope Bailey’s owner takes him inside soon.” AHC: As a pet’s body temperature increases, an inflammatory response occurs affecting their entire body, and can include:

  • Cerebral swelling, bleeding, and necrosis 

  • Ventricular arrhythmias and shock

  • Respiratory distress

  • Bacteremia and sepsis caused by a compromised intestinal wall

  • Acute kidney failure

  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation, causing bleeding from multiple locations

Patty: “I am watching Bailey closely for heatstroke signs. Initial signs can be subtle, but as a pet’s body temperature increases, their condition can deteriorate quickly. Bailey’s panting and excessive drooling concerns me. I am going to start barking to try to get his owner’s attention.” AHC: Signs that indicate heatstroke include:

  • Excessive panting or drooling

  • Lethargy

  • Bright red gums

  • Muscle tremors

  • Vomiting or diarrhea

  • Incoordination

  • Seizures

  • Collapse

Patty: “My plan worked. Bailey’s owner is taking him inside. She is a veterinary technician and knows what to do to help Bailey if he is overheated. I am so relieved. I think she must have forgotten he was outside.” AHC: If you notice signs indicating heatstroke in your pet, take them to a cool area, preferably air-conditioned, or where a fan is circulating air. Offer them cool water. Take their temperature using a digital thermometer. If their temperature is higher than 103 degrees, you will need to start cooling them. You can submerge their body in tepid water or use soaked towels to sponge down their body. Do not use ice or ice water, because a drastic decrease in their body temperature can result in shock. Take their temperature every five minutes, and bring them to our hospital when their temperature gets down to 103 degrees, or immediately, if their temperature has not decreased after 10 minutes. Once your pet’s temperature has fallen to a normal level, they may seem to recover, but they still require veterinary attention to check for internal complications. Patty: “Bailey’s owner is taking him to the veterinary hospital now. He seems much better, but he will need testing to ensure he is really OK. Hopefully, he will be home soon.” AHC: If your pet is affected by heatstroke, blood tests and a urinalysis will be performed to ensure no organ damage has occurred. If their temperature is still elevated, we will use cooling methods to help return them to normal temperature. They will receive intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, and their diagnostic testing results will determine their treatment course. Patty: “Thankfully, Bailey is home and doing well. I know his owner will take precautions to ensure he is not affected by overheating again.” AHC: Pet owners can prevent heatstroke by following these few guidelines:

  • Never leave your pet in an unattended vehicle.

  • Provide clean water for your pet. When you take your pet on outings, take bottled water and a water bowl and offer them fresh water frequently.

  • Avoid excessive exercise on hot, humid days.

  • Walk your pet during cooler times, such as early morning and late evening.

  • Keep your air conditioner running when you leave the house on hot days.

  • Ensure outside pets have shady areas, and provide several water sources.

  • If your pet is at high risk for heatstroke (i.e., brachycephalic, geriatric, overweight, or suffering from a preexisting condition), keep them inside in an air-conditioned area, and take them outside only for brief bathroom breaks.

Patty’s reporting has been useful today, and her quick thinking may have saved Bailey’s life. Great job, Patty! Ensure your pet stays safe from the heat by following the precautions that Patty suggested. If you are concerned your pet may be affected by heatstroke, contact our Animal Health Care of Marlboro team as soon as possible.